Fireside…swiped

I restarted the wood-stove in our basement early. I thought I jammed it full enough to last ‘til morning, but alas, it fizzled out. I rifled through our waste cans. I crumpled up obituaries, Superbowl ramblings, and Michigan State fallout stories to lay a new bed on which skinny logs could lie. With the flue and the metal doors wide open, a struck match touched the edges of news print in hopes of warmth and less furnace action.

The Muse draped her arm around my shoulder as the edges of wood started crackling.

“So, how you been?” she said.

“Wha?”

“You’ve been waiting for me, and here I am.”

“What took you….”

“It hasn’t been that long Jerbear.”

“Hey! Only my sisters can call me that!”

“How long have we known each other? I should be one of your sisters by now, for crying out loud.”

“Oh, now you’re invoking Mom phrases. Great.”

“Listen, I’m here now, in front of this fire with you because this is where your hearth is.”

“Ah, playing with words eh?”

“What’s the matter? Don’t you want to play?”

“No. I mean yes. Oh, I don’t know. It seems I get the keys under my fingers, and…. Nothing.”

“Well, look at you go now.”

Dear Mrs. Muse, (or is it Miss, or Ms.?)

This letter is a curtsy, I mean, a courtesy to inform you that sneaking up on me in a quiet moment of reflection is an unacceptable duty of your employ. Please do not show up unless I am at my desk with Microsoft Word open to an empty page, Times New Roman, 12 point, doubled-spaced.

May I remind you that your duties are to total memory recall with appropriate inspiration when I am at the aforementioned location. You must evoke my full frontal lobe capabilities, especially early, when distractions are limited to the hum of appliances, computer fans, and distant snoring.

This warning letter will be kept on file.

 

Sincerely,

Geraldthewriter

 

“Well now, I see what you’ve done here GTW. I’d say I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. I certainly hope a second letter is unnecessary.”

The Muse then snatched the letter from the queue and laid it on the glowing embers. The smoke rose up the flue like a winter moonrise.

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Words, Wards, and Swords

I am pen deep in the deep end.

My mind is liquid conundrums

flowing over rocks in a shallow stream.

My feet are tender on Sahara sand.

I wander into a mind field

hoping to detonate thoughts.

I long to hear shattering glass

and smell quotation marks.

 

I am pen deep in the deep end.

Scrawling silent sound bites,

slopped syllabled platitudes,

and bumper sticker shock speak.

Always searching for the edge,

but not standing too close.

Is this implement mightier?

If I raise it, will it be erased?

 

I am pen deep in the deep end,

journaling in all caps and exclamation.

Doodling, leaning on the sidebar soul.

Leaving it lay open, open.

Oh pen, where art thy inklings found?

I surmise from where thoughts arise.

I accuse the muse and light a fuse,

and lay my weapon down.

Writer’s Block and the Resistance.

How I would like to have something to share at writers group tonight. Here it is 6:58am and I’m sifting through stale, moldy files. Nothing. There are no rants on my political dissonance. I open the poetry stove and feel the broiled heat sear my eyes, but no half-baked couplets. Foraging the fridge there were no words to nibble on. I check the hall closet–There has to be some epiphany hanging in there. Nope. Just coats crammed in there inviting me to squeeze through to Narnia.

I placed my butt in the chair as every writing guru suggests… I was flat bottomed, and flat lined. Nothing. The groove has disappeared. I think maybe a walk around writer’s block is in order. Fresh air and nature sounds will help search for a pulse.

Humph. Seven tours around the block and zero, zilch. I even shouted on the last lap and the wall just wouldn’t tumble down.

Oh great, now comes the voice.

“What do you have to say that hasn’t been said already? Get up off your duff and do something of substance! You’re all dried up, go read the obituaries and look for your name again.”

I plugged my ears. “La la la la. Oh shut up!” I pulled out my sharpest pencil and pressed it against his jugular. “What have you done to my Muse? Where is she?”

“Oh, yeah, pretty John-boy, now you want her when the pressure’s on to impress your writing buddies eh? Well, why don’t you go downtown and have a plastic surgeon remove that mole once and for all?”

I increased the pencil pressure. “The mole has nothing to do with me or her.”

“Oh really? Then why does it remind you of the last decent sentence you laid down…six months ago, huh? It’s the lingering period.”

“Kill the attitude before I break off a piece of graphite into your carotid artery.”

“I don’t have an artery. I have no heart. I am the resistance Stephen Pressfield alluded to. Don’t worry, your Muse is safe. I left her strapped to a chair at Starbucks.”

“Which one? I mean… Right.”

“Listen, just ease up. Killing me won’t solve your problem anyway. You’re just jealous that Sally can sit down with her Muse for afternoon tea the day of and throw down a thousand words of Dickensonian prose.”

“Hey now, I am not…”

“Yes, Yes you are. You have DeHaan envy too.”

“You don’t know my heart. You don’t know.”

I slouched down in front of my laptop. My belly flopped over my waist and I couldn’t catch a decent breath. My eyes drilled a hole through the screen as the prompter throbbed like a clenched-fist heart. I think I might be having a key stroke.

Writers: Another Peculiar People of Which I Am One.

I am getting to know the writing sub-culture slowly. Slow is what I do. It is a good thing to ease into this people group. Now, writing critique group, don’t go and think I am pointing at you, although I might be. It is just that the more I read on the craft of writing the more I see that most writers could use some therapy, Gerald the Writer notwithstanding. Oh, I needed therapy before, but now I might need to double up. From two different writer friends and a book I was told that writing can be therapeutic. Not therapy. Therapeutic.

I am thinking about building a cabin in the back field as a therapeutic retreat. In it will be a desk, bookshelves, a wood stove, spent pens hanging on the wall, and a sculpture made of crumpled paper. One corner will have a chase lounge and next to it a high back leather chair. Once a week…o.k. several times a week I will lay on the lounge and my muse will sit and make saddle rubbing sounds as he crosses his legs. He will pack his pipe and light it over and again. I will recline and whine about self doubt and wonder if I have anything to say. My droning will be interrupted with an occasional mmhmm and legs switching up and a short throat clearing and a quiet “Go on.”

“So, tell me more about your critique group meeting last night.”

“Well, we began the meeting by going around the table and revealing our favorite kind of ice cream. Mine is spumoni. Then someone read the minutes from the last meeting and we critiqued the piece entitled “Minutes” which took twenty minutes. A couple of people brought a copy of their published books and it got a little awkward with the Freudian slips because of underlying book envy.

“Ah, Freud, I’ve heard of him.” A leather sound emitted while he straightened in the chair.

“Right, anyway things were said like:

My manuscript is bound up. (Which means their writing is currently constipated.)

I just talked with my publisher. (Meaning they left several voices mails.)

My editor is dragging his feet. (They owe their editor money.)

My writing is gaining momentum. (They have taken several laps around the writer’s block.”

“Okay Jerry, I get the picture. Then what happened?”

“Well, a lot happened, but I will skip the rest of the incidentals and get to my piece and my critique and my opinion of it.”

“Of course.”

“Did I sense a note of sarcasm?”

“Well I…”

“This is therapy, right?!”

“Yes, and…”

“I am the therapee, correct?”

“Indeed you are and it got me thinking…”

“Really, Mr. Muse, got you thinking, eh? I thought you were supposed to get me thinking?”

“I believe we have been down this road before…”

“Oh, would you like a change of scenery, eh? We can turn left at Albuquerque if you wish!”

“Listen…”

“No! You listen Mr. Moose, I mean Muse. I don’t pay you to rearrange MY priorities…”

“You don’t pay me anyt…”

“Don’t even go there. You know I am just a poor writer. Where is the love?”

“Define love.”

“I…” All I could think of at the moment was Tina Turner slamming one leg down as she sang ‘What’s love got to do with it’. He sat patiently and relit his bowl of tobacco. One eyebrow raised and the opposite side of his mouth curled a tad.

“You don’t know what they said about my piece. Sure they liked it but some of my favorite lines they suggested that I tweak them. One person didn’t know who Captain Kirk was and another ‘critiquer’ said that cartoon character expressions from the sixties and seventies most readers wouldn’t ‘get’. Zoinks! Who wouldn’t know where that word came from? Sometimes I feel like I am the only one with a clue. These writer types are ‘special’.

“And you are one of them, aren’t you?”

Sigh.

You Know You Have Encountered Writers When:

They sprinkle synonyms on warm buttered toast.

They brush off antonyms from their picnic sandwiches.

Their bumper sticker says “To split infinity and beyond!”

Their doormat’s inscription is Wel,.

They are emphatic about sentences being punctual.

They don’t kiss on the ellipsis.

They know the difference between an ampersand & and.

They are always in tense.

Run-on sentences get them around the writer’s block.

They hyphen-ventilate when administering syllabication.

They realize that italics aren’t descendants from Italy.

They think that conjunctivitis untreated leads to less apostrophes.

They figured out that colloquial is not a private religious school.

They wonder if No.2 pencils are second rate.

They give much thought to a prison sentence.

When they feel verbose they join Word Watchers.

One Space; The Final Frontier. The “Why” Response. In case you were wondering.

Yesterdays rant on writing received some interesting responses. One was from a writer friend and colleague Erin Brown Conroy. She succinctly explained the “why” behind the space issue in present day print. We banter back and forth about the quirks of writing. Below is a copy/pasted e-mail, raw, unedited, but used with permission. I found this fascinating. I am always curious about the “why” behind what is the norm of the times. Maybe you do too.

“Now, at the risk of you feeling that I’m doing my teacher thing (I so hope you don’t see it as that…it’s more of a friend, “hey, did you know?” kind of thing)…I thought I’d share with you what I know re: the meaning of the two spaces. Just thought you might want to know, in the long run. If not, treat this as a bunch of mindless trivia that you can delete at your whim, from both the page and the brain. So, here goes.

When we used typewriters many moons ago, typewriters had Courier font. In Courier font, the spacing of each letter is the exact same, regardless of the shape of the letter. Therefore, when you typed an “i” next to another “i,” “l,” or otherwise-skinny letter, it created more space/visual gap between the letters (as opposed to typing two “a” or “o” letters next to each other, which tended to hug each other more closely…best buds, you know). The visual gaps in Courier font spread the spacing out in some places, within words. So, in order to see the end of the sentence (the “stop”) better, two spaces were placed after end punctuation.

Today’s fonts have what’s called “kerning.” Good ol’ Wikipedia says, “In typography, kerning (less commonly mortising) is the process of adjusting the spacing between characters in a proportional font, usually to achieve a visually pleasing result. Kerning adjusts the space between individual letter forms, while tracking adjusts spacing uniformly over a range of characters.[1] In a well-kerned font, the two-dimensional blank spaces between each pair of characters all have similar area.” Hence, to see the end of the sentence clearlly, two spaces are not needed.

By the way, when we use two spaces after end punctuation with font that is kerned, it creates “rivers of white” on the page: If you unfocused your eyes, the two spaces after the end punctuation creates an illusion of irregular white “lines” running vertically on the page.

Another reason I’ve heard why we don’t place two spaces after end punctuation any more has to do with the Internet. Within three to seven seconds of landing on an Internet page, we decide whether or not we want to stay there or leave. Research proves that words keep the reader on sites more than graphics (tho graphics are important, too). Word real estate on the page is premium, particularly “above the fold” (the landing page’s bottom edge, before you have to scroll down). If we use one space after end punctuation, that adds up to more words that fit on the page. Marketers are trying to eek out as much real estate as possible, to keep people on the page.

So there you have it. I’ve effectively downloaded my limited knowledge on why one space instead of two. Woo hoo — we are both edgeecayted on the critical issue of the day.”

Yeah, it is so important to be edgeecayted, is it not? Write on!

Be encouraged, writers, to gain a fellowship of comrades. I am in a writers critique group and am gaining such a wealth of connection in this sub-culture. If you claim the title of writer, don’t go it alone.

One Space; The Final Frontier

I was told that the new norm

in writing is one space after punctuation.

 

Why?

 

Is it to save some trees?

Is it for less wear and tear on the space bar?

Is it because we no longer have time to breathe between sentences?

 

The sentences are getting shorter too,

to accommodate our attention spans.

No more Dickensonian paragraph long first lines.

 

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…”

Was it? Is it?

 

Comma usage is down too.

The little dimples that break in two

long attached words like a kit-kat bar.

 

Are we projecting the cultures

A.D.D. tendencies to the page?

What page?

The screen glows and our faces become light blue.

 

I will not go into the rant about cursive no longer being taught.

 

I will not keyboard my way out of number two pencils.

 

I wonder what Wendell Berry thinks about this?

 

Don’t get me wrong, I love trees.

My mother’s ashes are buried underneath a majestic sycamore.

I love the sound of pages turning.

 

My wife might get me a Kindle for my birthday.

 

I wrote this in poetic form so I wouldn’t be tempted to double space between punctuation.

Why Do I Write? Thoughts from a Writer’s Retreat.

“Pick a word, any word, and I will tell you the Greek word…” was spoken by Gus from My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1

Words, they are what we humans use.  They spill from us usually before we can walk.  Simple words form from our rolling tongues and our parting lips.  My pastor once described them as containers.  Our experiences pour into our word containers and give meaning.  Pick a word, any word right now.  Got it?  That word to you will invoke images and understanding particular to you.  The general meaning will hold true.  Red is red.  I see my mother’s orange red hair first.  You might see a red dot on the back of sneakers.  Associations run as deep as we are old.

God’s first recorded words were “Let there be light” and it was.  If God had a mouth that parted and closed, oh how I wish I could have read his lips!  Instead I read the results of the power of his words.  A creation set in motion through words.  My sense of wonder is aroused because he said something.  Then, to add a cherry on top, God infused his image in me.

He placed words in me.  They are words to be spoken and written to set recreation in motion around me.  Those words carry possibility.  Syllables of light can set aside shadows of unknowing.   Although life can be fragmented, a complete sentence of God’s image in me can open things up.  God has something to say and I do too.  Yet, like a child I point to God saying, “He started it!”

It began about fifteen years ago.  At a conference someone prayed over me and the Spirit of God melted me to a point where I was saying through tears, “I have something to say”.  Then a few years later a poem read in church moved me.  Verse describing a field of various named and unnamed foliage pointed me toward a freedom.  God let me know it was o.k. to pick words from a field of vocabulary and shape sentences like a garden.  Then the nick-name “John-boy” was placed on me from my Abba (See earlier post titled Name Calling).

If you are a writer you understand what I am saying.  But these ideas can be attached to any vocation given by God.  Personal examples come to mind.  Joe the mechanic, Luke the tech, Dan the pastor, Pete the nurse, Pat the administrator, Shelby the number cruncher, and Barbara the mother operate out of a giftedness and passion.  There are numerous examples and I wonder how many popped up for you as you read this.

This weekend when the question was posed “Why do you write?” I thought of Eric Liddell.  In the movie Chariots of Fire, Eric’s sister was getting worried that her brother, called to be a missionary, was getting sidetracked by a passion for running.  His response to her was tender but unwavering.  “Jenny, Jenny, you got to understand, God made me for a purpose.  But he also made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure in me.”  Eric ended up going to the mission field after he glorified God through the gift of running.

What about you?  Do you feel God’s pleasure in you?  Does a personal calling or vocation sound foreign to you?

Name Calling

The group of men I was hanging with at the time was encouraged to ask God a question.   From there the stories dribbled out over the next days and weeks as God answered the question:  What is your nickname for me God?

I was afraid to ask.  The last nickname attached to me was cry baby.  I cried every time it hung on my ears like a peer fulfilling prophecy.  The reason behind asking was that “Our Father who is in heaven” desires to bestow a blessing on his sons with a term of endearment.   Well, that was a hard swallow only because “my father who was on earth” rarely said boo to me. Why would the Father beyond the “by and by” take time out of eternity to speak to me?

The men started sharing the answer to the destiny packed question.  Names like William Wallace and Maximus and Rocky Balboa started dropping from the sky and landing like testosterone helmets.  I began seeing middle aged men sniffing like Barney Fife and tucking in their shirts.  They didn’t care what hung over their belts, which made me even more hesitant to pop the question to Pops.

That direct of a question was like asking the President if I could borrow a dollar.  What if the answer was a non answer, crickets rubbing their legs together in the void as it were? What if Abba said to me,”Give me a minute, nothing’s coming to mind at the moment, can I get back to you?”  My low expectations would have been met if such an answer whispered to me through the pines.

Well, I did finally ask.  I was stepping into my car and it came out of my mouth like a burp.  “Do you have a name for me?”

John-boy

I shut the door, turned the key, and fastened my seatbelt.  The car idled in beat with my thoughts.  Nah.  Seriously?  Not Spidey?  Not Clark Kent?  Not Captain Kirk? Not even Mighty Mouse?  I pulled away, leaving those thoughts in the handicapped spot.

It was a while before I returned to this “answer”.  I had looked several times in the mirror for a mole and round reading lenses.  There was a temptation to ask again to see if Abba might have an additional name like when I was confirmed in second grade.  James was my confirmation name chosen by my parents.  Maybe God was catholic and I was not yet confirmed by him.  The name Gerald Allen James John-boy Barrett sounded a little “under” the top instead of over it.  I think what wrinkled my brain was the “boy” part.  It had associations.  Like a black slave being called “boy”.  Like in the movie The Man From Snowy River when Jim Craig brought the herd of wild horses into the fold single handedly.   Hence, the last line of the film…”He’s a man.  The man from Snowy River.”   A coming of age story doesn’t end with a baritone voice squeaking into a soprano.

My mother raised me and I was outnumbered by six sisters.  Hen pecked was my appropriate tag line.  I can show you the pock marks on my ego.  “My name is Jerry, and I’m a momma’s boy.”  It’s a good attribute in my estimation and does aide in my understanding of “Venus’s”.  But I was longing for an add-on.  I was hoping for a hormonal hinge from which to swing.  In high school I played football thinking that jocks and their straps would make a strapping young man out of me.  I didn’t even like to hit which reduced me to bench sitting, one butt cheek away from “water-boy”.    

Well, I kept hanging around these men for a while.  I saw some good changes in the diary-of-a-wimpy-church-male screen play of which I was type cast.  They ordered swords to hang above their mantles.  They draped golden gloves over the roll bar in their Jeep Wranglers.  They grunted to one another and fist pounded and chest bumped at man-cave-like meetings.  They wore their nick-names like leather Harley-Davidson jackets.  They found their pubescent rebirth of sorts, together, while “John-boy” sat and observed it all…  He did? He did! I did!

Honestly, the realization didn’t pound me quite like an exclamation point.  It was more like Morse code; dot dot dash dot dash over all long period of dot dot dot.  I looked over my shoulder to find evidence lying like bread crumbs.  It was a trail that led back to a large family on the dead end of Grand Avenue.  2020 Grand Avenue.  20/20 vision focused when I set my reading glasses down and closed my eyes.  I grew up in a family only to grow out of it.  Oh, I was still in the family yet as calendars filled the recycling bin I found myself standing outside of it more and more with pen in hand.  Little vignettes and poems began showing up for special occasions.

*

            About fifteen years ago I was in a church service that changed my trajectory of purpose and meaning.  There was a poem threaded into the order of service.  The music minister read a poem by Luci Shaw titled May 20th: Very Early Morning.  At the end of the reading I had a lump in my chest, pounding, and tears crested the edge of my eye lids.  My mind and my heart scooted closer together and thoughts and emotions were indistinguishable.  God was speaking to the whole of me as my body shook in rhythm with the gasps of weeping.  What I heard in my spirit was: You see, Jerry, your faith is so much more than utilitarian obedience.  Did you feel the beauty of someone interpreting my creativity?  It was just a field of wild growth wasn’t it?  Enjoy the beauty I have laid out before you and share your own interpretation with the gift I have given you.  My artist image has penetrated your soul and as the field of unnamed grasses reaches to praise me, I want you to know you can do it with your words. 

I thought of all the scraps of paper and folders of paragraphs and poems lying around my house.  The urge to bolt out of the sanctuary and leave my wife standing there in bewilderment tempted me.   I wanted to run home and cradle all the written meanderings and whisper to them, “I’m back, everything is going to be o.k.”  That was one time God tried to let me know he had a name for me.

A few years later I was at a Christian writer’s conference of which Luci Shaw was a participant.  At this conference, held by-annually, there is tucked in the middle of it a worship service.  It is a time to give God glory for the arts through music, visual arts, and written word, including poetry from the Bible.  That particular service included a reading by Luci.  She picked her piece May 20th: Very Early Morning.  My heart was overwhelmed immediately and I sat in gratefulness that God would bless me so intimately.  The author reading her own work!  I heard her inflections and pauses and cadence.  God nudged me again:  You should know, Jerry, that my art is always there and I am reading it to you too.  Learn to listen.  Learn to receive. You are released to craft phrases and select words with which to invite others into the conversation.  I think if I had asked “the question” right then God would have handed the name to me.

            And I thought to myself, “what a wonderful world”.  God of wonders.  Human common senses are there by God’s design.  Eyes, ears, nose, skin, and taste buds are the first responders of the Master Artist.  Then brain cells rub together an interpretation of the sensual receptors to swallow into the spirit.  Even today when I sing words like creation or nature my soul stands on tip-toes and envisions much of what I have received through my experiences.  Tears often follow.

Something happened to me recently that underlined my nick-name.  “John-boy” was worn loosely and privately since its reception.  I had been escaping to my room and writing about stuff while looking out on Walton’s Mountain for some time.  Then a while back my Pastor taught on the idea of dreams and the chasing after them.  His words got me thinking about my words and I started looking for a writers group.  I got together with an old friend who I knew wrote for a living and asked him about starting a writers group in this area.  It wasn’t long after that that we started driving an hour north to an established group of writers.  After a few meetings we were allowed to critique and also share some of our own work.  My friend shared his piece first which was a word limited devotional piece to be submitted for publication.   It was brief but well written and  he sat silently (which is the rule) during the reading and critique.  I got antsy and wondered what I got myself into.  They were talking about commas and hyphens and split infinities…I thought what does science have to do with writing?  I hope they don’t split my infinity! 

Then I passed out my piece.  It was long with a lot of commas and I didn’t have it proof read or anything.  One person began reading.  I heard a sigh.  Later I heard a laugh.  Midway through the piece the reader had to stop because her throat tightened with emotion.  Everyone waited patiently and my friend offered to continue but she politely waved him off.  When she finished, there was a slight pause and then spontaneous applause.   I didn’t know.  I did not know how to respond.  No disrespect God, but it was if I heard a voice from heaven say, “Well done John-boy!”  What followed was a grace filled critique which overlooked the technical fractures in the piece and focused mainly on content.

After the meeting I ran to the bathroom to check for a new grown mole and wash the salt water off my cheeks.  Things have changed.  The other day I caught myself saying “I’m a writer” instead of the usual “I like to write”.  My wife calls me her John-boy now.  Yeah, no swords on my wall and I don’t even own a Jeep, but I have a pen in my pocket and I am o.k. with that.

© geraldthewriter.com and parentheticallyspeakingin3d, 2012.

Wind Drift

“Do you get my drift?”
I sent it over a week ago.
It came with the cold front
over the lake.
The winds were persevering
all the way past the county line.
I lined it up along north 2nd street.
It still leans over the shoulder.
The temporary edifice
is about to surrender
to 40 degrees.
Come quick.
Let me talk you under the ledge.
Listen as the symmetrical
melts melts melts.

The dripping has begun
and words dangle
drop into the drainage ditch.
Remember you said you were cold
and dry.
Sit under here as if it was a juniper.
Cup your hands as the drift withers.