Are You This Rose?

In the U.S., we celebrated Father’s Day the other day, so happy belated Father’s Day to those of you who are dads, even if you don’t live in the U.S. And speaking of dads, the winners of Stacy Nyikos’s picture book, Toby (illustrated by Shawn Sisneros; published by Stonehorse Publishing), are two dads. First, if you’re wondering who Stacy is, check out the interview here.

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Now, let’s get to those winners! Without further ado, they are

Are . . .

Are . . .

Are . . .

Phillip McCollum and Charles Yallowitz!

Congrats, winners! Please confirm below and I’ll snail mail the books to you. By the way, each copy was signed by Stacy and comes with a bookmark. Sweet!

Moving on, let me satisfy your curiosity (if any) about the post title. First, take a look at the photo below. That’s the rose to which I refer. I’ve written about roses before. Oddly enough, I keep learning lessons from them unexpectedly.

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A few days ago, my stress level had tripled thanks to some issues with a freelance project. Ever have one of those days when everything seems to go bad like food forgotten in a refrigerator? That was the kind of day I’d had. I felt like quitting before I could be booted off the project like someone I know had been. My soul felt rubbed raw thanks to some feedback I received.

When a day goes sour, I do what I usually do (besides grab the nearest pint of ice cream)—I headed out for a drive. As I headed outside, I spotted the rose and took a photo. I’m glad I did, because a day later, the branch was barren. Perhaps someone plucked it, since I didn’t see any petals on the ground. But when I saw that rose, instantly my blood pressure decreased.

This lone rose—the product of a prickle-lined cane—reminds me of the struggle to persist despite daunting circumstances. That’s about as far as I can go with the fancy talk. I wanted to come up with metaphors and other poetic language. I even had aspirations of writing a poem—an ode to a rose by a brick wall. But I’m feeling too raw and too lacking in creative juices these days. So I’m telling it straight—without a chaser. But even though I don’t have the right words, I’m still amazed that a thing of beauty like a rose springs from something that looks like the perfect symbol for pain.

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What kind of rose is your life blooming? Perhaps the painful prickles make you doubt you could ever produce anything beautiful. Maybe they make you forget that your life is beautiful. Sometimes I forget that, especially when I doubt my ability to do anything right. That’s why I needed to see that rose, to be reminded that beautiful things are often born out of pain.

Rose cane from mooseyscountrygarden.com. Rose photo taken by L. Marie.

Fractals: The Purpose of the Pattern

Before I get into fractals (and I know you’re holding your breath until I do), let me first announce the winner of the Ice Cream Giveaway discussed in Monday’s post.

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The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Phillip McCollum!

Congrats, Phillip! Please email me at this address—lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com—to let me know your snail mail address and phone number for package delivery purposes.

Now, about those fractals. . . . For some reason, I woke up the other day thinking of them. This is either because of the large amount of snow my area has received or because I’ve been doing a Lumosity workout every morning.

Anyway, according to Wikipedia:

A fractal is a mathematical set described by fractal Geometry, the study of figures exhibiting fractal dimension. A fractal set when plotted typically displays self-similar patterns, which means they are “the same from near as from far.” . . . The concept of fractal extends beyond trivial self-similarity and includes the idea of a detailed pattern repeating itself. (Emphasis added.)

But I probably didn’t have to tell you that. The Koch snowflake (below), developed by Swedish mathematician Niels Fabian Helge von Koch, is a fractal made of equilateral triangles. Dutch artist M. C. Escher also featured fractals in many of his illustrations.

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Yeah, yeah. I know. You couldn’t possibly care less, right? Okay. I’ll get to the point. When I think of replicated patterns, I can’t help thinking of my writing. What I see replicated at times is a pattern of procrastination. When scenes seem insurmountable, I turn to other activities: games like Plants vs. Zombies, checking email, texting, or reading other people’s blogs. I even sometimes use my Lumosity workout, which takes a few minutes at most, as an excuse. (BTW: Ingrid Sundberg wrote a great post on measuring productivity: http://ingridsnotes.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/keeping-track-of-time/)

So, as I began writing this post, I started to get down on myself about my procrastination. But after thinking about it, I decided to take a radical view and look for what’s positive about this pattern of behavior. No, I’m not crazy. I’m trying to follow the pattern of fractals in nature. If you’ve observed these patterns (snowflakes, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), you’ve seen the beauty in them. (BTW: The WebEcoist has beautiful photos of fractals in nature here: http://webecoist.momtastic.com/2008/09/07/17-amazing-examples-of-fractals-in-nature/)

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Romanesco broccoli—another fractal

So, there had to be something good about my pattern of procrastination. And I discovered just what that something was. You see, I often procrastinate, believe it or not, when I’m going in the wrong direction in my writing. Only, I don’t often know right away that I’m going in the wrong direction. When I approach a scene for which I have no energy and no thoughts about how it could work; when I try to shoehorn a plot point into the narrative, thinking that someone might judge my story as boring without it, I immediately think of other things more enjoyable to do—like playing Plants vs. Zombies. However, when I’m writing a scene for which I have great emotional investment, I usually work on it until it’s done, with no interruptions other than the necessary ones (like going to the bathroom or eating chocolate).

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Case in point: for the last few days I’ve been going in circles about adding to my novel some chapters involving a side quest. You see, one of my characters is dying at this point in the story. Yet I had great plans of writing a couple of chapters in which the dying character’s companions explore a beautiful cavern and make a discovery about their people. But I couldn’t make much progress on the chapters, even after free writing and brainstorming. I found myself going back to Plants vs. Zombies out of frustration. A vicious cycle? I’d like to think of it as an opportunity for reflection. Why did I pick up that game again and again? Because it’s fun and fast paced. Note the words fast paced.

After reading a post at Charles Yallowitz’s Legends of Windemere blog (“Distractions from the Plot or Character Building?”), I determined that the proposed chapters are probably a distraction. I asked myself: If a character in this scene is dying, why would his companions take the time to explore a cavern? Shouldn’t they continue their search for help for the dying person as quickly as possible? After all, that’s the ticking clock element. By trying to squeeze in this side trek, I had inadvertently sabotaged the pacing of the story by decreasing the tension. And I learned that through procrastination.

Now, I’m not justifying a habit of procrastination. We all know its negatives. None are more apparent than in my life. But sometimes, you have to look for patterns and what they tell you. There may be a purpose to that pattern, if you’ll take the time to look. Speaking of looking . . .

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Have you thought about what your procrastination might be telling you?

Ice cream image from hfboards.hockeysfuture.com. Koch snowflake and broccoli images from Wikipedia. Wrong way sign from myparkingsign.com. Ninja cat from LOL Cats.

When Is It Time to Get a New Pair of Pants?

The other day I contemplated my sparse wardrobe. What sparked this contemplation? The fact that I was about to walk out the door and noticed that the pants I wore had a hole in the inner thigh. Whoops. See, this comes from dressing in the dark again. A bad habit. I had to back in the door and get out the sewing kit.

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Um . . . I don’t wear pants like this!

Back in my undergraduate days, I would have walked out the door uncaring. But now that I’m a professional, well, it’s just not done for me to go to the grocery store with a big ol’ hole in my pants.

So, when is it time to get a new pair of pants? The answer might seem like a no brainer to you. But when you’re on a limited budget, the answer is not as clear cut. I have to ask myself, Can I afford to buy a new pair? Can I make the old pair last by repairing them? But the pants are starting to look like Frankenstein’s monster with crooked stitches on top of crooked stitches—the results of past repair jobs.

By now you’re wondering what on earth I’m going on about. Pants? Who cares, right? But I can’t help likening my pants predicament to a writing project, since I’m a pantser (heh heh). See, I’m working on a short story to submit for inclusion (hopefully) in an anthology. The short story form is especially challenging for me. If you read “The Arf Thing,” you know that Val Howlett excels at it, and works hard at her craft. She discussed her work ethic here. And fellow blogger Phillip McCollum is another advocate of the short story, as you can see if you read his blog.

Two years ago, I wrote a short story that I’m now revising. I didn’t want to submit it with a big ol’ plothole in it. The problem, a friend pointed out, is the lack of a clear story arc. But yesterday, as I wrote and rewrote, I wondered, Am I sewing crooked stitches on top of crooked stitches as I fix this story? I was sorely tempted to bail on the story.

So, today I ask myself, (1) Am I content to whine about how much better at short stories writers like Val and Phillip are? (2) Have I really put forth my best effort into making the arc of the story clear? (3) If I have, and the story still isn’t working, is there a better story for me to work on? In other words, Is it time for a new pair of pants? I can tell you the answers: (1) Normally, yes, but I’m trying to get over that. (2) No. (3) No.

I chose this story over another, because the other story was a discarded chapter in a book that I thought I could pass off as a short story. Ha, ha! A definite no-no according to the submission rules! The story I’m working on actually is a short story. So, heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s back to work (on that story) I go. One thing I’ve learned from Val’s example: don’t shirk hard work. (Hey, that rhymes!)

How do you know when it’s time to get a new pair of pants?

Pants from easleys.com.