Lemons

Have you ever bitten into a lemon? I did once, when I was a kid. Note the word once. I quickly realized that some fruit have a taste other than sweet.

Now, I realize that many people love to eat lemons. (My mother for instance.) And this article talks about the benefits of eating lemons: https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/benefit-eating-whole-fresh-lemons-4390.html

Yet I prefer my lemons paired with other things: sugar and water in lemonade; sugar, water, and tea for iced tea; or sugar, eggs, flour, and other ingredients in lemon meringue pie or lemon bars. Even the lemon candy I like is of the sweet and sour variety.

    

It’s much the same with stories. I like a mixture of sweet and sour. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien; Sabriel by Garth Nix; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016 movie; the novelization was written by Alexander Freed). An author who writes this kind of story has to strike the right balance between hope and hopelessness.

   

Usually I love the point in the story where things are at their worst, and you don’t think good can come out of it—but then it does, sometimes at a high cost. A thoroughly satisfying conclusion is a great reward for that kind of tension.

I also think of lemons because the sourness of life sucks sometimes. I can’t help putting it that baldly. (Yes, baldly.) Jobs are lost. People you love face health issues or are in emotional pain. These moments are the “shut the book, Dad” moments Samwise Gamgee talked about in Lord of the Rings—the moments when you’re not sure everything will turn out right. I’m in that kind of moment right now. Maybe one day, I’ll provide the full details. But I wanted to write about it in the moment—when a happy ending isn’t a guarantee—because often you hear stories of triumph after the fact, after the darkness has passed and the “sun shines all the clearer”—another quote given to Samwise, this time in The Two Towers:

I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you.

These words gives me hope when life hands out lemons. May they enable you to keep pressing on in a sour/dark time of your own.

Now I’m thinking of some words Galadriel spoke in Fellowship of the Ring:

May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.

Lemon image from freepik. Lemon meringue pie image from Pillsbury. Lemonhead image from Target. Quote from Two Towers is from the script by Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, and Fran Walsh © 2002. Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee image from Cinema Blend. Words of Galadriel and others are by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Hand Sewn/Sown

When I was a kid, my mother taught me to sew by hand. Though we didn’t own a sewing machine, she said I needed to learn the basics, like sewing on a button or sewing a hem on pants or a skirt. So I learned two basic stitches—the running stitch and the whip stitch. Later I bought this book, which lists other stitches. (This article lists some of the stitches I learned.)

Sewing anything by hand takes time and patience, especially if the goal for whatever you’re working on is that it be neat and durable. One day, however, I’d like to learn to use a sewing machine. (My sister-in-law has one.) That would certainly save time.

  

Stitches on felt

As I pen this post about hand sewing, I can’t help thinking of how I used to write everything—stories, poems, and even novel drafts—on legal pads or notebook paper. But when I acquired one computer after another, I stopped writing most things by hand, with the exception of some letters and some journal entries. (Yes, I still write letters. Not a ton, but a few in a month.)

The thing is, I type faster than I write by hand, which is why I turned to the keyboard many years ago. I reasoned, why not cut out the middle man by writing on the computer, rather than writing on paper and then having to type my handwritten text. But the words I’ve sown by hand on paper seem to have more depth. When I take time to physically write, I wind up writing more.

At first I thought that was just my perception. But an online article “Your First Book: Handwriting vs. Typing. How to Write It?” by Zoe Nixon states

Depending on the individual, some people confess that writing by hand allows their creative minds to work easier than when they type.

Here is yet another article on the subject: https://www.simonandschuster.com/getliterary/benefits-writing-longhand-versus-computer/

And another: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/nov/03/creative-writing-better-pen-longhand

While I doubt that I’ll return to writing a whole novel by hand, I know the value of writing tricky scenes by hand. As one of the above articles suggested, I often doodle as I write. If I have multiple characters to maneuver in a scene, drawing their positions on paper (standing or sitting? punching first or dodging?) helps me write about them more effectively. This tactic also helps me discern if a scene is too overcrowded and in need of adjustment.

What about you? Do you first write by hand or do you enter your text on a computer first? Let me know in the comments!

Though her chicken is excited at having written her first novel, Pinkie Pie thinks it needs a revision. All of the dialogue consists of only one word, “Cluck.”

Computer from somewhere on the internet. Other photos by L. Marie.Pinkie Pie, computer, and chicken are from the My Little Pony Equestria Girls Minis Pinkie Pie Slumber Party Bedroom Set by My Little Pony.

Life Giving or Deadly?

One of my favorite episodes in the history of the BBC show, Doctor Who, is an episode called 42, written by Chris Chibnall. (If you’re totally confused about what Doctor Who is about, click here.)

The Doctor [David Tennant], and his companion at the time, Martha [Freema Ageyman], land on a ship that’s about to crash into the sun in 42 minutes (done in real time during the show’s run). According to Wikipedia, the episode is called 42 to pay homage to the “answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything” in Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, which in that series was determined to be 42.

Imagine the stress of solving that problem. You get creative when your life is on the line. That’s why this episode is one of my favorites. That and the fact that the sun has always been a source of fascination for me. It can be pleasantly warm on a spring day and lethal in a desert or a drought. It’s untamed. The same object that is life nurturing can kill in an instant.

Words are like that. I don’t have to convince you of that if you have a Twitter account or other forms of social media. Perhaps you’ve witnessed one of the infamous Twitter mobs where one tweet launches a thousand words—each like a flaming arrow—at a target, igniting a war. But in just about every case, the flaming arrows defy the laws of physics in that after they hit the target, they boomerang and hit the first tweeter as well, usually within a day or so. Even when tweets are deleted, they live on through news stories and word of mouth. Many a career has derailed because of a word.

Many times, I’ve said things in anger I wish I could unsay. But I’ve never experienced regret after affirming someone.

Every day we have a choice to be life giving or deadly; to enlighten someone or to burn him or her with a word.

Heard a good word? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Pinkie Pie thinks the chicken’s tweet, Everyone is a cluck, will cause problems down the road. But the chicken is adamant and refuses to delete the tweet.

Doctor Who 42 images from Wikipedia and the BBC. Sun image from Union of Concerned Scientists. Other photos by L. Marie.

Talkin’ About the Car Wash

If you’re familiar with old songs from the 1970s, you’ll know that the post title is a line from a song by Rose Royce—the titular song of the 1976 movie, Car Wash. (Go here if the video is not below. Some YouTube videos I’ve posted have disappeared in other posts.)

When I was a kid, I loved going to the automatic/tunnel car wash. Loved watching the big brushes on the sides of the car and the huge blowers. And just when I thought the car wash was over, other services my father asked for (like wax or an undercarriage wash), would begin. The more time in the car wash the merrier, I always thought!

My younger brother, however, was terrified of the experience. He would cover his eyes and sink low in the backseat. My older brother and I made fun of him, because we were exercising our sibling right to torment him. Yet as I look back on that today, I feel bad for mocking him for something he genuinely feared.

It’s interesting how as kids, our first response to someone else’s fear was often to laugh, especially if the fear is not one to which we can relate. “Fraidy/Scaredy Cat!” “What a baby!” Ever hear those phrases? I’ve said them. It’s what kids do.

There are some fears we grow out of. But others linger longer than childhood.

Awhile ago, someone told me that more people than ever are suffering from anxiety. It is certainly on the rise among teens as this article mentions. Many people have had debilitating panic attacks. But instead of empathy, some have been given advice along the lines of, “You need to get over it.” I wish I could pretend that these words weren’t uttered to someone I know. But they were.

That’s why I think of the car wash and the empathy I withheld from my brother. I didn’t understand the fear, so I didn’t offer support. Even into adulthood, sometimes I thought a push in the form of a platitude was enough to motivate someone whose situation I didn’t really understand. I ignorantly assumed that emotional obstacles could be readily surmounted in a short time span. That is, until I went through a period of grief myself.

Sometimes a kick in the pants is necessary to motivate someone who has the power to move on but procrastinates. But some emotional seasons go beyond a pat answer. Grief, anxiety—neither has a preset limit. Just when you think you’re out of it, like a car moving along a conveyor belt at the car wash, another stage begins. It’s over when it’s over.

So from now on, I’m giving pat advice the brush off. Daily I’m reminded to be quick to hear and slow to speak* when someone shares his or her pain.

Car wash image from clipartmag.com. Grief image from the Ridge Meadows Hospice Society.

*From James 1:19.

Finish Well

One of the things I find fascinating about The Great British Baking Show (as it is known here in the States because of Pillsbury; it is The Great British Bake Off where it originated) is the fact that you can win the accolade of Star Baker—the best baker—in one week of the competition and be sent home crying in another. It’s what you do each week of the competition that counts—particularly the final week. (Don’t worry. I won’t give any spoilers.) You can see this scenario played out in any of the series on Netflix (or wherever you watch the show). So, winning Star Baker is not an iron-clad guarantee that you will win the whole competition.

A good motto for the show is, “What have you done for me lately?” On this show, you can’t coast on your laurels. You have to prove yourself every week to the very end.

This is the concept of finishing well. Haven’t you’ve seen Olympic runners tragically stumble before crossing the finish line, or a gymnast execute a perfect tumbling run only to stumble out of bounds—or worse—fall and injure himself or herself? And how many of us have mourned when our favorite sports team choked in the last minutes or the last game of the championship?

And who can forget the hoopla surrounding the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones—a show highly favored until the last season?

I’ve read book trilogies and viewed movie trilogies with endings that disappointed me to the point where I wished I’d never started the journey in the first place. Have you? Some of the trilogies I’ve regretted reading had endings that felt rushed or tacked on. In all fairness, the downside of some publishing efforts is that some authors spend years on the first book but are only given a matter of months to finish the second and the third.

And I know: art is subjective. The same trilogies I’ve disliked were liked by many people. You can’t please everybody! But there are some series with endings so satisfying, they have become regular destinations for me. One of those is The Lord of the Rings. Another is Avatar: The Last Airbender (the animated series, not the movie). (I realize that fantasy is not everyone’s cup of tea. 😀)

I’m impressed by the fact that the Avatar series creators, Michael Dante DiMartino (right) and Bryan Konietzko, knew the ending of their series well before that season ever aired. In Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Art of the Animated Series (Dark Horse Books, 2010), DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko explain what happened during a meeting they attended to discuss the show:

We pitched for over two hours, describing the four nations, the entire story arc—all three seasons’ worth (12).

So, before the show was ever greenlit, they knew what was going to happen. And the show ended pretty much on par with that pitch meeting. Many fans and critics agree that this series is one of the best animated series ever made. Ending the series took four episodes! But it was one of the most satisfying endings to a series I have ever seen.

 

Finishing well is definitely not an easy undertaking. If you’ve ever run a race, you know that your strength begins to flag before you reach the end. When my brother ran the Chicago marathon, he said that around mile 20, he was ready to quit. But he tapped into a well of determination to cross that finish line. (We enjoyed some great snacks when he did. 😄)

The road to finishing well begins with finishing what you started. But that’s just the beginning, especially in writing! For many who have written a story, an article, or any book, you know that finishing a draft leads you to the beginning of another journey—that of revision. But revising helps you finish well.

What do you do to ensure that you finish a story or some other project well? What series have you read that finished well?

Finish line image from the intentionallife.com. Mile 20 image from Wikimedia. Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko image from Toonzone. Avatar book photos by L. Marie.

Color My World

When you think of a product that epitomizes your childhood, what do you think of? To me, nothing says childhood like Crayola Crayons. I loved getting new crayons at the beginning of the school year. Crayons and new notebook paper opened up new imaginative possibilities.

I couldn’t find the small box of crayons I have, so this box of chalk will have to do as a stand-in for childhood wonder.

Thanks to the recent rainstorms, the ground is too wet right now to effectively draw on the sidewalk, but here is a photo I’ve used on the blog before. Some of the kids in my apartment building did the handiwork. I love how the color brightens a bland sidewalk. It was a day brightener for me as well.

Did you know that non-toxic crayons have existed since 1903? I didn’t. I found out when I looked up the history of Crayola and watched a video on it. Click here for that video.

The 1903 crayons

In 1958, the box of 64 crayons was born.

I never lost my love of crayons, mainly because I love an array of colors. Whether I crochet or knit, I love to use colorful yarn. If a pattern calls for neutral colors, I usually switch the colors to those I prefer. I actually feel better when I’m working with colors and when I’m surrounded by colorful things.

Turns out I’m not the only one. According to this article, brighter wardrobe colors make you feel better. Room colors also affect your mood, according to this article and this one. But according to this post at Smithsonian.com, color preferences are not always universal. Past associations with a color and also cultural influences can affect how a color is perceived.

Do you have a favorite color? How do these colors make you feel?

 

 

 

 

Undoubtedly, you’ve seen color used in a movie or in a book to heighten a certain mood. But sometimes color is used against type for an unsettling effect (like a bright, sun-washed blue sky in a horror film).

Speaking of color in nature, with autumn underway, I look forward to the changing colors of the leaves. Until that happens, I can enjoy colorful clouds in the sky at sunrise or sunset. These photos were taken at sunrise. The clouds in the photo at the right look like a mythical firebird with bright plumage.

 

How has something colorful brightened your life this week?

The Squeezamal [creature at the right] has found a colorful new friend, Lazy Buns, who doesn’t get a move on without a cup of coffee.

Crayola stamp from somewhere on Pinterest. 1958 Crayons from PopScreen. Other photos by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company. Pop Hair Pets are a product of MGA Entertainment.

The Peanut Butter Falcon—Dream a Little Dream

This past weekend, a friend and I headed to the theater to see a movie neither of us knew much about: The Peanut Butter Falcon, which was written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. (Don’t worry. There are no spoilers in this post.) Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, and Dakota Johnson are the stars of this drama/adventure. Though Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson are more well known and are very compelling in this, the main draw of the film is Zack Gottsagen, an actor with Down syndrome—only the second time I’ve seen representation onscreen like this, the first being a TV show called Life Goes On. Zack plays Zak (yes, Zak), a young man who fervently hopes to become a professional wrestler, a fact you learn in the trailer.

The film premiered at the South by Southwest film festival this past March. As my friend and I discussed the movie afterward, we talked about how these days we’ve seldom seen such a heartfelt journey story, one that critics describe as Mark Twain-esque—a very apt description. We were impressed by the messages of the film—follow your dreams; treat others with grace and dignity even if it means going the extra mile for that person. (By the way, what dream are you following?)

In a day when many are pilloried on social media, and spewing hateful comments is deemed a fundamental right, I can’t help being inspired by a pair of director/writers who chose to present an alternative to negativity. (Click here to see an interview with the actors.)

I can’t think of a better segue to a giveaway of some books by Jill Weatherholt, an author whose goal also is to provide an alternative to negativity. I interviewed her in my last post, which you can find here.

   

The winner of A Mother for His Twins (which would sound really funny if you heard someone say this out of context) is Lyn!

The winners of the Autumn Hearts anthology are Charles and Clare!

Winners, please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all who commented.

Having been inspired by The Peanut Butter Falcon, Tia Tigerlily has made a practice of giving at least one affirmation a day to her mini-me, whose dream is to own a flower shop someday.

Peanut Butter Falcon poster from justjared.com. Book covers from Jill Weatherholt and Goodreads. Author photo courtesy of Jill Weatherholt. Other photo by L. Marie. Tia Tigerlily Shoppie doll is a product of Moose Toys.