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.

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.

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.

Would You Rather . . . ?

Have you ever played the game of choices called, “Would You Rather”? You can find various lists online.

Usually, the choices are wretched and outrageous like this one: “Would you rather lick a dirty trash can or the floor?” And that’s just the list for kids, which you can find here. Even if you’d rather say, “Yuck, neither,” according to the rules, you have to choose one or the other. (I would choose the bathroom floor at my house growing up. My mom made sure that floor stayed clean!)

I prefer my choices to be less rock-and-a-hard-place awful but instead pleasant, like “Would you rather eat steak or lobster?” or “Would you rather date Batman, the Flash, Black Panther, the Falcon, Captain America, or all of the above?” That sort of thing.

  

I’ve got a “would you rather” choice for you. Would you rather spend $25 at Amazon or at Barnes and Noble?

              

This is actually a real choice. I’m giving away a gift card for either place. Why? Just because. (Internationally, you’ll probably have to settle for Amazon.) Comment below to name your choice. If you also want to say whether you would lick a bathroom floor or a trash can, feel free. Or, say which one you would choose: steak or lobster. Winner to be announced sometime the week of August 11.

Henry couldn’t decide which is cuter: the Squeezamal (left) or the Bearakeet. And then the Bearakeet bit him. Henry is now searching for obedience schools for Bearakeets. (He thinks the Squeezamal is cuter, by the way.)

Zobmondo Would You Rather . . . ? image from ebay.com. Batman from pngimg.com. Black Panther from marvel-movies.wikia. Other photo by L. Marie. Bearakeet is a Hatchimals CollEGGTIBLE by SpinMaster. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company.

Armed and Dangerous

See this?

This is a sword. It might not look like it, but it is. I use it to slay the elements.

You hear that, Winter??? You’ve thrown what you got at me. Minus 11-degree temperatures with -20 windchill. Snow falling every day. Freezing rain on top of that some days. Days when I have to scrape snow and ice off the car sometimes two or three times a day. But you will not get me down! No, no, no! You. Will. Not. Break. Meeeeeeeeeeeee!

This is my fighter pack.

Yes, that is a cup from Starbucks. It is a hot mocha. Got my sword and my gloves. And my lemon loaf cake. And I’ve got books to keep me warm. (And soft blankets.)

   

See these? My babies! I call the one on the left Darth Vader. And the one on the right has a space helmet vibe. How apt that these are space heaters.

   

Don’t let this sunny day fool you. It got to ten above (-12 Celsius) that day and sixteen on Sunday. The forecast calls for more below zero weather with snow.

   

Ha ha, Winter! You think you’ll break me. Think again!

Life is like that sometimes, isn’t it? It hammers at you, crusts you over in disillusionment with its icy winds.

So I bought this the other day.

It may not look like much. But the title on the package says something to me. Not to the surface me, but to the bone-deep me that needs a good word every now and then. It reminds me to keep dreaming even through the crusty moments. Dream big dreams, girl. Not just dreams of warm, sunny days to avoid giving in to the winter blahs but dreams that say cold, dark days like this won’t last forever. That there’s something beyond those midnight blue-hued days where you’re kicking icicles off your car. Off your heart.

Yeah, I know. Sometimes the iceberg of life is way too much for your little boat. And my little pep talk, with its mixed metaphors, is only a tiny splotch of Sunshine Yellow paint on your Great Wall of Despair. I don’t want to make light of anyone else’s pain. This pep talk is really to remind me to keep going, even when I don’t want to.

So, Winter, you won’t have the last laugh! Not on my watch.

Oh yes, Winter. I’m armed and dangerous. Don’t mess with me.

Even Kitty has a found a friend during the cold days. Though I don’t think this poor cat knows what she’s gotten herself into.

Photos by L. Marie.

The Gift of Words

I’m late posting this week, because I’ve been busy revising my middle grade fantasy novel for an interested party. I hope someday to have news to share on that score. (Sorry to be cryptic.) In the meantime, I wanted to talk briefly about the gift of words before I return to revising.

Being able to tell a story, to use the right combination of words to entertain, encourage, or enlighten is a gift. Every once in a while I’m reminded of how valuable a timely word can be.

Ever have someone affirm you in a way that galvanized you to action? Perhaps you’d been stuck, and someone said just the right thing to get you moving. Perhaps what he or she said inspired to go beyond what you thought you could do. The gift of words.

Sometimes, you only need one word to lift your spirits or to bring about a positive change. There’s one in particular I’m thinking of: Yes. A balm for a soul bludgeoned by too many No’s. The gift of a word.

When has someone’s yes lifted your spirits? What recent story inspired you to go beyond the limitations you thought were the framework of your life? Feel free to share in the comments below. And have a great weekend while you’re at it!

Yes, ’tis the season for crochet projects. I found this mini mitten ornament pattern (designed by Rebecca Lynn Taylor) at Ravelry.

We’ve got snow! At least a little.

Revise sign found at clashesandcollisions.wordpress.com. Yes button found at clker.com. Photos by L. Marie.

Drive On, Worker Bee

People are like cars. Some are newer, sportier models, zipping down the street, engines freshly oiled and cranked for speed. Some are reliable sedans or mini-vans. They get where they’re going. Some are older models that have weathered many storms, but are in need of an oil change every now and then.

(Where is she going with this? I hear you whispering.)

Lately, I’ve felt like the old model slowly making its way on the road, while the newer models zip around me, heading toward opportunities beckoning toward them that older models seem denied.

Of course, that’s a matter of perception. But man, I’ve felt beaten down lately.

Recently, I received this badge in the mail:

I have to thank Andy of City Jackdaw for it. He told me that the worker bee is the symbol of Manchester—a reminder of its industrial past. But it’s also a reminder of their resilience in the wake of the May 22 bombing at the Manchester Arena.

I needed this reminder, as I consider my life. Worker bee? Check. I’m happiest when I’m working on something. Resilience? Why do I always forget how necessary that is? Haven’t I lived long enough to know that you have to persevere through hard times? Rejections, money issues, writer’s block, loud neighbors, illness, the death of a loved one (I’ve experienced all of the above recently), breakups—they pop up like potholes here and there on the road of life. It’s our choice whether to stall out or drive on—to persevere through them.

   

I’m grateful for friends who prayed for me and encouraged me through this dry season, where I’ve felt trapped in a canyon surrounded by walls of doubt; a place where I can barely write even a grocery list. Words fail me. This too shall pass, they say.

I’m suddenly reminded of some lines from Peter Pan—“second [star] to the right and straight on till morning.” Sounds like driving directions to me. I know you can’t get to Neverland by car. You need pixie dust for that. But I can return to a state of wonder—a place I see just over the horizon—if I keep on driving.

Have you felt stuck in a canyon lately? What did you do to climb out and keep going?

Photos by L. Marie. Cutie Cars by Moose Toys.