Category Archives: writing

THE RIGHT WORDS

What words would "Mr. Wonderful" say to impress a woman?

What words would “Mr. Wonderful” say to impress a woman?

What would John Bunyan say about Mr. Wonderful's words?

What would John Bunyan say about Mr. Wonderful’s words?

What would a patient Grandpa say to his grandson about fishing?

What would a patient Grandpa say to his grandson about fishing?

In 1871, Lewis Carrolll wrote the nonsense poem, “Jabberwocky.” It begins “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves ~ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe…” It’s a well-known poem, often praised for the flow and sounds of the words, and in every English class there are always some students who swear they understand exactly what Carroll was saying.

Author Roald Dahl (1916-1990) was a prominent novelist, poet and short story writer who was also known for Gobblefunk, his own language. Two examples are “swigpill” (disgusting food), and “splath-winkled” (hurrying about). Despite this special language he scattered through some of his writing, his also wrote this: “Don’t gobblefunk around with words.”

Sometimes words work; sometimes they don’t. All writers know this, and most agree that one place where this is particularly true is when they write dialogue. It either works, or it doesn’t. 

To loosen up the writers in my classes and workshops, I often jumped right into exercises on writing dialogue. My favorite prop was Mr. Wonderful, a 12” doll with a flashy smile, a button-down shirt, khaki pants, and real-tie brown leather shoes. Press the palm of his hand and he said sixteen different phrases—all from the heart—and all as fake as his smile. Two of my favorites were “You know, I think it’s really important that we talk about our relationship,” and “You know, Honey, why don’t you just relax and let me make dinner tonight…and do the dishes.”

It was obvious to both males and females that Mr. Wonderful’s words were stilted and didn’t work.   So the writers were to act as his “coach” and choose any three of his phrases and write what a “real guy” would say. After they’d finished, they were to hand the sheet to another writer who would write what an imaginary Ms. Wonderful would say in response. Everyone relaxed with the dialogue of this fake-to-the-core doll. It was a great way to get started.

Before my mother’s dementia, once when she was visiting I introduced her to Mr. Wonderful. She listened to his phrases and laughed. Then she said that some of the hardest dialogue to write was how children talk, so another exercise for my students could be to write what a young girl or boy would say to Mr. Wonderful, telling him how to dress and what to say. I really liked her idea, and asked if she wanted to try writing some examples.

Mom looked around, shook her head and smiled. In her opinion, the best way to write dialogue was to get comfortable and sit quietly, in a waiting room or a classroom or anywhere adults or children talk and do things. Then listen to what they say, how they pause or move when they say something, if they chatter on and on or speak in short sentences, if they mumble or whine. That’s how you learn to write like people really talk, she said. You listen.

And then she laughed and added that you didn’t want to sit quietly too long. You might fall asleep and then some uppity writer might write about how you sleep with your mouth open or snore.

My mother taught me that getting words right is important, but so is watching and learning. And getting your heart involved, too. As John Bunyan, author of THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, wrote: “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

The same is true in life.

This "borrows" from Keep Calm and Carry On.  Write your own version, or choose another well-known saying and rewrite it in your style.

This “borrows” from Keep Calm and Carry On. Write your own version, or choose another well-known saying and rewrite it in your style.

 

Use the title of this book. Write for five minutes and tell where the men are.

Use the title of this book. Write for five minutes and tell what happened to the men.

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, special quotations, teaching, writing, writing exercises

THIS NOVEMBER, TASTE LIFE TWICE

Bull in front of Kansas barn (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

Bull in front of Kansas barn (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

Consider the possible genres: horror? mystery? romance? true crime? or science fiction?

Consider the possible genres: horror? mystery? romance? true crime? science fiction?

On May 2, I wrote a post about a game Mom and I played during some of my visits when she was still in the early stages of dementia.   As I would drive around town, she’d choose a house and answer the question, “What’s Behind the Door?”    It was intended to encourage her to remember tastes, sounds, smells and feelings. We had a lot of fun with the game, and we usually went for an ice cream cone afterwards.

Several of you have asked if I made up other writing prompts.  Here’s another: “Genre-flecting” (thinking about story ideas based on genre types.)

The purpose with my mother was to use different writing genres to inspire ideas for stories and poems. We talked about various genres–mystery, memoir, western, romance, horror, children’s, fantasy, science fiction, etc.–and also combinations of genres: women’s mainstsream, malice domestic mystery, romantic western, narrative poetry, children’s adventure, etc.

We used buildings as the prompts, and once we chose a place, the next step was to create characters, animals, situations or events that happened there. Since I was driving and she was in the passenger seat, I would cite the genre prompt, she’d think about it, and then she’d create a story or poem idea.   For instance, consider the top picture of the bull in front of the barn. If I asked, “What’s going on here that could make a children’s adventure story?” ~ your answer would be very different than if I asked, “What’s going on here that would make a sci-fi/mystery story?”

For those of us who are not participating in this November’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) or National Memoir Writing Month, we have another option.  November 14 is both “I Love To Write Day” AND “Loosen Up, Lighten Up Day.”  

Combine them.  Shake your shoulders loose, grab a pen and write.  Choose one of these pictures or use one of your own or from a magazine; consider a genre you especially like to read—or don’t like to read at all—and set a timer.  Write about “What’s going on here?” for 20 min. or an hour, or for half a page or a full page. Write, and see what ideas or memories emerge. 

The wonderful novelist, essayist and short story writer Anais Nin reminds us this about the importance of writing: “We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection…”  

This November—throughout the month, or on the 14th, or any day—write…and taste life twice.   My mother would be the first to tell you it’s okay to treat yourself with an ice cream cone.

old house at pond      

cabin on open plains

tejon st

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Different kinds of homes, lessons about life, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

THE NORWAY OF THE YEAR

The national flag of Norway, adopted July, 1821

The national flag of Norway, adopted July, 1821

 

 

 

Red November leaves clinging to tree.  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Red leaves clinging to tree. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Have you ever noticed the grim way some writers describe the month of November?  

Joseph Addison wrote this: “The gloomy months of November, when people of England hang and drown themselves.” (I double checked, and the word “months” is indeed plural, as if November seems to go on and on, which might explain the hanging and drowning, or maybe it refers to Addison’s interpretation over many years. Whichever it is, I apologize to the people of England; remember, I am only the messenger.)

Emily Dickinson describes November this way: “November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.”  (I used to teach Dickinson in my English classes, and I don’t recall her writing that July is the Sahara of the year, or making any other month/place comparisons…only November.)

My mother’s writing is not well known–and at this point in her dementia, even she doesn’t recognize her own words when I read them aloud to her–but I’d like to share with you a few of her descriptions of November.  I found these typed and handwritten examples stored in her writing box. 

The windblown sleet darts ~ Like tiny ice bullets ~ Against my window pane. 

Wee button noses ~ Beneath eyes of wide wonder   ~ Smudge frosty windows.

And these last two, titled 1 and 2, were followed by a question: which one is better?  If you have a preference or comment, I’ll read them to Mom during my next trip to Kansas…and remind her again that these are her words and Haikus.

#1: Spruce draped in snow-fall ~ Stand silent cold sentinels ~ Against threat’ning skies.

#2: Trees clothed in snow-fall ~ Are strong sentinels guarding ~ Against steel grey skies.

Both of my parents thought that each day had its own beauty, and each month had its own importance and possibility. For my mother, summer months were for planting and gardening; fall and winter months were for knitting and baking; spring months were for hoping and watching new growth. She believed every season was a gift, and all the seasons deserved heartfelt anticipation…and at least a few words of notice and appreciation penned in her notebooks.

 

Fall clouds on the Kansas horizon

Fall clouds on the Kansas horizon

Maggie on fall hike in Brown's Park, Abilene, KS

Maggie on fall hike in Brown’s Park, Abilene, KS

November picture of Colorado's Pikes Peak

November picture of Colorado’s Pikes Peak

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, Mary Shepherd's poetry, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, writing

TO SEND or NOT TO SEND, that is the question

pink lilies

 

 

PUTTING MAKEUP ON DEAD PEOPLE, a wonderful novel by Jen Violi

PUTTING MAKEUP ON DEAD PEOPLE, a wonderful novel by Jen Violi.

My blog post last week included information and examples about writing greeting cards and where to submit them. This week’s post is open to discussion about cards that SHOULD be sent…and those that, in my opinion, SHOULD NOT be sent.  Or at least not sent early.

On Monday I received a very nice Hallmark card in the mail. It came from a couple who live several states away. The card artwork was lovely; the calligraphy was elegant. The cover message was about the permanence of a mother’s love, and the inside message stated that my mother would always be with me in spirit. The final line was two words: “With Sympathy.”

My mother suffers from advanced dementia and on most days her clearest memories are those as a child on the farm in Missouri, but she is definitely still alive. The handwritten note on the card said the couple had made a donation in my mother’s name to the Alzheimer’s Foundation.

By the time I reread the card, I had the eerie uneasy feeling that maybe I had dementia…or had slipped into an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”  Even though I was recently with my mom in Kansas, I wondered if the card senders knew something I didn’t. Finally I read the folded, typed paper in the envelope behind the card, explaining that they did not know how much longer my mother might live, but they wanted to send the card early. Then the typed message went on to other details.

Those of you who have tried your hand at writing greeting cards know that, in general, the two most difficult cards to successfully create are 1) humorous cards, and 2) sympathy cards.  And as far as I know, the two types do not usually overlap, although there was one card years ago that got a “bad taste” award. The details vary, but as I remember it, there was a frog on the front of the humorous/sympathy card, and the message was something like We all croak. Sorry.

Does the process of dying and dealing with death really make people so uncomfortable that their default response is to try to brush it aside, lighten it with a joke, or send a card early to get it out of the way?

One of my favorite novels I’ve discovered in the past year is PUTTING MAKEUP ON DEAD PEOPLE by Jen Violi. It is a poignant, touching, funny and tender novel about a young woman who learns to deal with her father’s death by training to become a makeup expert for a funeral home. Her respectful and genuine desire is to serve, honor and protect the dead and their families…and to honestly face her own fears.  I read aloud several chapters to my mother last winter—especially one of the scenes where the young woman is talking to the lady on her table as she selects fingernail polish to match the lipstick—and my mother smiled and said, “We like fingernail polish…don’t we?”   This novel does not avoid, over simplify, hide from or joke about death. It reveals and embraces the rituals of death that illuminate life. I strongly recommend it. 

We learn as we go, and we do the best we can. Those are the two main lessons I’ve learned during my father’s Alzheimer’s and now my mother’s dementia. I also realize that we’re all at different stages in our journeys, and probably there was no offense or avoidance intended by the Early Sympathy card that arrived on Monday. Therefore, I will set it aside until the time does come to read it…when I will be grateful for genuine words of condolence and expressions of sympathy.

 

Oklahoma City: "The Survivor Tree," the American Elm that survived the explosion.

Oklahoma City: “The Survivor Tree,” the American Elm that survived the explosion.

"Field of Empty Chairs" memorial of the april 19, 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing.  168 chairs with names of those killed, 19 smaller chairs for the children.

“Field of Empty Chairs” memorial of the april 19, 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing. 168 chairs with names of those killed, 19 smaller chairs for the children.

 

 

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, Uncategorized, writing

NOW is the best time

Example of a Saturday card.  Cover message is ...but it's better than to miss a month

Example of a Saturday card. Cover message is
“Another birthday? Well, it’s better to be a year older…”  (inside message) “… than to miss a month.”

 

 

Another Hallmark Saturday card:  "Before LOL, TTYL, and OMG..." (inside message)  "...we were BFFS and didn't even know it!  Happy Birthday to my BFF."

Another Hallmark Saturday card: “Before LOL, TTYL, and OMG…” (inside message) “…we were BFFS and didn’t even know it! Happy Birthday to my BFF.”

 

How many of you have ever created your own greeting card?  Let’s see a show of hands (humor me, okay?)

As a child, maybe you colored flowers or boats on a folded piece of paper for someone’s birthday; or  you learned to print the message GET WELL SOON for a sick friend; or you wrote out coupons on strips of paper and gave them to your mom or dad for Christmas, promising “I’ll clean my room” or “I will not hit my brother.” Remember how much fun card writing was? And as my mom always said, the best cards are the personal ones you make yourself.

Hallmark’s Saturdays card line is your opportunity to make a card, and make some money. So dig out fun or funny or touching photos, color or black and white, and submit them to Hallmarkcontests.com

Read through the section with all the open contests. To get you started, I’ve shared two of my favorite Saturdays Expressions cards…and their inside message lines, to show you good examples. Hallmark pays for each card, plus other perks, including a small picture of you and a clever bio sketch on the back of the card. Deadlines vary.

Maybe you’d rather write about a true aha! moment or Eureka experience. If so, submit a personal essay up to 1,500 words to the Life Lesson Essay Contest. The deadline is September 18, and first prize in $3,000. http://www.realsimple.com/work-life/life-strategies/inspiration-motivation/second-annual-life-lessons-essay-contest-00000000013682/index.html   No entry fee.

And for you poets, another no entry fee contest is Princemere Poetry Prize. Deadline is September 15 and first place is $300. http://www.princemere.com

Or, work on your own writing deadline, or a photography, painting, drawing project that isn’t quite finished. Choose your creative endeavor and go for it…NOW.

Why NOW? As I was driving to visit my mom recently, I heard a radio commentator talking about the August 2014 phenomenon. The Chinese call it “Silver pockets full” and supposedly it happens once every 823 years. This month, August of 2014, there are five Fridays, five Saturdays, and five Sundays. Check your calendar, and you’ll see.

Supposedly—and there’s absolutely no scientific proof, but it’s certainly a good motivator to get busy—anytime during this month is an excellent time to follow your dreams, finish up your creative projects, expect the best…and encourage your friends to do the same.

Well, friends, what have you got to lose?

This isn't a card, but somebody used a smart concept to create this "fight breast cancer" T-shirt.  (If you don't get it, ask someone to explain it to you...it's great!)

This isn’t a card, but somebody used a smart concept and teen reference to create this “fight breast cancer” T-shirt. (If you don’t get it, ask someone to explain it to you…it’s great!  Here’s a hint: think like a teenage boy on a date.  What does “getting to second base” mean to him?  So it’s a good breast cancer awareness slogan to “save 2nd base.”)

 

A display of "Saturday" cards by writers from everywhere.  (All photos by Marylin Warner)

A display of Hallmark’s “Saturday” cards by writers from everywhere. (Photos by Marylin Warner)

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Filed under art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, lessons about life, writing, writing contest with cash prizes, writing exercises

PERSONAL STYLE

Mom's fashion "style" was to create her own fashions, even an occasional hat. (picture is property of Marylin Warner; all others in this post taken by Marylin Warner)

Mom’s “style” was to create her own fashions, even an occasional hat. (picture is property of Marylin Warner; all other pictures in this post taken by Marylin Warner)

    

 

 

 

Mary's great-grand-daughter has her own writing style...sidewalk chalk.

Mary’s great-grand-daughter has her own writing style…with.sidewalk chalk.

STYLE: a manner of doing something; a way of painting, speaking, writing, dressing, composing, or creating. Note: Do not confuse this kind of style with stile, as in turnstile, unless your style is to go back and forth, passing through gates.

Some of my mother’s friends’ clothing and jewelry styles were strongly influenced by French designer Coco Chanel’s casual chic designs. Many of them also wore her signature perfume, Chanel No. 5.   Mom wasn’t a big fan of Chanel No. 5, and since she made most of her clothes, she didn’t imitate many of the outfit trends. But during an interview, Coco said one thing that Mom applauded: “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”

I took Mom to a writing workshop at Avila College years ago, and the question of writers’ styles came up. Here are some of the “famous” quotes that made sense to her: “I don’t think writers compete. I think they’re all doing separate things in their own style.” ~ Elmore Leonard. And this one by Raymond Chandler: “The most durable thing in writing is style. It is a projection of personality and you have to have personality before you can project it. It is the product of emotion and perception.”

The one that made Mom laugh was by William Battie, the English physician who in 1758 wrote the first lengthy book about treating mental illness: “Style is when they’re running you out of town and you make it look like you’re leading the parade.” It seemed logical to Mom that showing confidence even when you didn’t actually feel it was good advice for writers, since there was so much rejection.

The one specific bit of advice she followed was about improving writing style: “Cut out all of those exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald     Mom read through her writing samples, and each time she found an exclamation point she studied it carefully…and then often removed it.

I miss many of my mother’s qualities and abilities that have been dulled or destroyed by dementia.

Going through her big box marked MARY’S WRITING, I love reading her notes and quotes about writing and all kinds of creativity. If I read them aloud to her, she might smile and nod, but there’s no longer any true recognition.

So I’ll share them with you. That was my mother’s style, to share ideas and information and activities with her friends, and if it weren’t for the dementia, she would be very happy to count you all among her friends. She really would.

 

An old house gets a new "style lift" ~ a bold and beautiful new paint job.

An old house gets a “style lift” with a bold and beautiful new paint job.

Practical Art style ~ turn a public trash can into an art display (Abliene, KS)

Practical Art style ~ turn a public trash can into an art display (Abliene, KS)

Maybe your style is to combine your favorite car and your favorite sport: get a BMW golf cart  (and it's for sale!)

Maybe your style is to combine your favorite car and your favorite sport: get a BMW golf cart (and look, it’s for sale!)

"Recycling Style"-- an old tire gets new life as a child's tree swing.

“Recycling Style”– an old tire gets new life as a child’s tree swing.

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, Kansas, special quotations, writing

A BOOK BY ANY OTHER TITLE…

Books ARE often judged by their covers...and their titles.  (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Books ARE often judged by their covers…and their titles. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

My possible illustration for Michael R. Young's book, MANAGING A DENTAL PRACTICE: THE GENGHIS KHAN WAY

My possible illustration for Michael R. Young’s book, MANAGING A DENTAL PRACTICE: THE GENGHIS KHAN WAY

A possible book cover for REUSING OLD GRAVES: A REPORT ON POPULAR BRITISH ATTITUDES by Douglas Davies and Alastair Shaw

A possible book cover for REUSING OLD GRAVES: A REPORT ON POPULAR BRITISH ATTITUDES by Douglas Davies and Alastair Shaw

 

Ask anyone in my writing groups: titles are my thing. If you’ve written a poem, a short story, a novel or a nonfiction book and need a good title, I’m your go-to girl.

When I was a young child, one of the services of my parents’ car dealership was to personally deliver cars to the buyers in other towns. To pass the time during long drives, here’s one game we played:  my mom or dad would make up a title and have me make up a story to go with the title. Even then, I sensed the difference between a really interesting title and a so-so or boring one. A title like “Three Ways To Make A Ghost Get Out of Your Bedroom” could keep me busy for hours.

With some exceptions, unless you intend fraud or deceit, you can use an existing title for your own book. In other words, you could title your book GONE WITH THE WIND.  Why you’d want to do that is another question, but you could. So sometimes my mom would give me the actual title of a book or story she’d read, and I would do the best I could to make up a new story to go with that title.

To show you the importance of a good title, here are a few examples that might make potential buyers  give a book a second look. HOW TO POO ON A DATE (The Lovers’ Guide to Toilet Etiquette) by Mats and Enzo, COOKING WITH POO (“Poo” is Thai for “Crab”) by Saiyuud Diwong, and COOKING WITH POOH: Yummy Tummy Cookie Cutter Treats by Mousse Works.

Or consider STRIPPING AFTER 25 YEARS by Eleanor Burns. Is that title more interesting than How To Spend Years Creating Quilts With Strips of Fabric? And in 2007, Simon & Schuster printed Big Boom’s self-help book with this title: IF YOU WANT CLOSURE IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP, START WITH YOUR LEGS.  Catchy title, but I’m just not sure how long a book it would have to be—sounds like the details could pretty well be covered in a magazine article instead of a book.

There are many one-word book titles: IT, JAWS, SHANE, ULYSSES, LABYRINTH, REBECCA, SIDDHARTHA, ATONEMENT, WICKED, etc. According to book authorities, the longest title in the English language is by Jonathan Edwards, preacher and philosopher in the mid-1700s (his famous sermon is “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”) His book title is AN HUMBLE ATTEMPT TO PROMOTE AN EXPLICIT AGREEMENT AND VISIBLE UNION OF GOD’S PEOPLE THRO’S THE WORLD, IN EXTRAORDINARY PRAYER, FOR THE REVIVAL OF RELIGION, AND THE ADVANCEMENT OF CHRIST’S KINGDOM ON EARTH, PURSUANT TO SCRIPTURE PROMISE AND PROPHECIES CONCERNING THE LAST TIME.

Be honest; did you finish reading the entire title?  Hmm…how many readers do you think would have wanted to buy the book?

John Steinbeck said, “The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”   To give ourselves the best odds of actually selling what we write, we should spend some time—and have some fun if we can—with our titles.

With all the book titles that include Poo and Pooh, I just had to add this poster for identifying Poop in the Woods (courtesy of Garden of the Gods, Colorado)

With all the book titles that include Poo and Pooh, I just had to add this poster for identifying Poop in the Woods (courtesy of Garden of the Gods, Colorado)

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Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, Fort Scott Kansas, writing, writing exercises