Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Taking a Writer's Staycation

Travel is great for writers. The more you see and experience, the more it informs your writing. But successful travel, especially with a family, depends heavily on the convergence of many factors, including work schedules, finances, school programs and projects, dog kennels, cat sitters, and how long it has been since someone in the household last threw up. It’s a miracle anyone goes anywhere. Especially if an airport is involved. (Thanks, TSA.)

Well, you think, drumming your itchy writer fingers on the table, the alternative to traveling is staying home, and what’s fun and inspiring about that? My answer is: nothing. Please go directly to YouTube and spend the next 7 ½ hours watching instructional videos for making decorative door wreaths out of the junk in your recycle bin.

If you didn’t take the bait, congratulations! You are a true writer and/or your recycle bin is empty. So I will share a little secret: you can find plenty to write about without jetting off to Reykjavik. In fact, I once spent the better part of three years doing one new thing in my hometown every week. It was a great way to renew my enthusiasm for my community, and it gave me lots of material.

If you’re interested in mining your location for inspirational nuggets, I have a few tips:

Research. Go to your local tourism website and print out a list of the top ten activities. Now, wad that into a ball and throw it on the floor for your cat to play with. Instead, pick up a real newspaper and a couple of those ubiquitous free arts and culture publications. Make a list of possible activities that will challenge you to stretch your imagination and comfort zone. If you’re anxious about going solo, find a willing friend/spouse/child to accompany you.

Ditch your car. No, don’t actually drive into a ditch. (Writers…so literal.)  Leave it behind and walk, which helps exercise both your body and your amazing powers of observation. Bring a notepad and camera (my preference) or use a smart phone to document your adventures. Pictures and notes are indispensable memory joggers when you finally quit procrastinating (ok, maybe that’s just me) and sit down to write.

Follow your nose. Venture into establishments you’ve never visited, and talk to people you encounter as you go out and about. Different neighborhoods, whether ethnic or not, often have vastly different vibes, especially in urban settings. Take advantage of the variety available in your area. Feel free to eat, drink, and be merry, all in the name of investigation.

Always mind your surroundings. Ra’s al Ghul’s advice to Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins applies to all of us. Your safety is paramount, so don’t stray so far off the beaten path that you end up somewhere you shouldn’t be. If you really want to get nitty-gritty, schedule a ride-along with your local PD.

Now, get out there and find your inspiration! 

What tips would you add for infusing your writing with local flavor?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Lessons from a Mop

Image result for Steam MopI thought I'd give myself a week off from blogging after the A to Z challenge, and all of a sudden, it's been two weeks and counting. That's May for you!

Here's a not-very-interesting fact about me: one of my least favorite domestic tasks is cleaning the floors. I detest the whole "scrubbing on hands and knees" bit, and wrangling with a mop and bucket is only marginally better. Even the no-rinse cleaners seem to leave some residue behind, which my bare feet constantly try to detect and analyze. (Because apparently my feet don't have anything better to think about.)

Last week, I finally gave in and bought a steam mop, which uses only hot water to clean and sanitize. After I finished the floors in record time, with zero sticky feet, I held the mop tenderly in my arms and asked where it had been all my life.

The point of this tale of domestic drudgery is that it got me to thinking about the concept of working smarter, not harder. That familiar phrase is one of those business-speak platitudes I've largely ignored because I like to think I'm special and above such things. But now, thanks to my new best friend Moppy, I'm looking at my life and wondering how else I can work smarter, not harder.

(For the record, I do not believe that smart and hard are mutually exclusive. I suppose we should all endeavor to work smarter AND harder. But I'm not sure a mop can help me with that.)

So, I did what any diligent modern person does, and I googled "work smarter, not harder." Dozens of tips popped up. Many of them were familiar to me and might be to you, as well. Delegate. Follow up. Stay off the internet. Get a good night's sleep. Restrict how many times you check email. Understand the value of your time.

But a few jumped out at me as a bit more original and more pertinent to my lifestyle:

Make a "to-don't" list for things you shouldn't waste time on. I love this tip, which is credited to Tom Peters, because, for me, seeing something written down is much more effective than my usual nagging mental loop.

Carry a notebook and pen, because you never know when inspiration will strike. Hey, if it was good enough for Thomas Edison, it's good enough for me. Plus, I won't waste a lot of mental energy trying to remember all the ideas I forgot.

Be quick but don't hurry. This comes from famed UCLA coach John Wooden. It resonated with me because I know that when I'm doing something at a comfortably quick pace, I'm efficient and energetic. When I have to hurry, however, I feel a little frantic and get sloppy.

Establish opening and closing rituals for your work day. Give your brain consistent cues to tell it when to start work...and when to quit work and sneak off to watch The Handmaid's Tale.

Spend ten minutes a day laughing out loud. Laughter reduces stress hormones and increases oxygen to the brain, both of which do wonders for productivity.

All in all, these are easy things I can incorporate into my life, but I'm still open to suggestions. How do you work smarter, not harder?

Monday, May 7, 2018

A to Z Reflection

Hello, and thank you for checking in with me on A to Z Challenge Reflections day!

First, the good stuff:
1. I finished! And I think I got all my posts up on time, with the correct letter on the corresponding day. Whew!

2. I kept up with comments pretty well, both on my blog and others.

3. I enjoyed my theme exploring lesser-known characters/concepts of world legend and mythology. If anyone is curious, this was my go-to reference:

When necessary, I'd check the internet for additional information, but this two-volume set gave me a reliable starting place, even for the tricky letters Q, X, and Z. And seeing as how I'm a book person, I'd much rather browse through an encyclopedia than surf the web any day.

Now, the not-so-good stuff:
1. Some days, it was a scramble and took much more time than I planned.

2. I didn't have a lot of traffic. I've done A to Z a couple of times before, for a blog about my hometown entitled Choice City Native. Those challenges brought many more readers my way. Maybe it's because this blog is much newer. Or maybe I'm less interesting these days :-)

3. On some blogs I visited, it was difficult to find exactly where to leave a comment. If it took more than twenty seconds, I left, regardless of how much I enjoyed the post. Am I the only one who had this problem?

4. I left many comments that were not returned, which is disappointing. I did have trouble leaving my web address at certain sites, so technical glitches may be partly at fault. On the flip side, I didn't make it back to some great blogs as often as I wanted.

Saving the best for last:

1. As always, the content in A to Z is varied and fascinating. Funny, poignant, creative, thought-provoking, and sometimes a little dark, the blogs reflect the fascinating variety of the human experience.

2. I became acquainted with a handful of amazing bloggers who returned to my posts again and again, left great comments, and generally made me feel validated. Thank you so much!

Here they are, in no particular order:

AJ Blythe
Natasha of Tasha's Thinkings
Sue of The Great Raven
Keith of Keith's Ramblings
B Pradeep Nair of Time and Tide
And a special shout-out to Karen of Profound Journey, whose blog was, and I'm sure will continue to be, a welcome refuge of wisdom.

I do plan to join the A to Z Road Trip in a couple of weeks and visit some of the many blogs I missed. Check the A to Z page for details. Hope to see you there!

Image result for Animal Road Trip Memes

Monday, April 30, 2018

Z: Za'afiel et al.

Whew, here we are at the last day of the 2018 Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Kudos to everyone who hung in there and made it through all 26 posts!

Today, I bring you Angels whose names begin with Z, because a) there are a surprising (to me) number of them, and b) it seems a perfect fit for A to Z.

(This is an incomplete list and spellings sometimes vary, so forgive me any errors in advance, if you would.)

Za'afiel: controls hurricanes and storms. Sometimes he is good, sometimes evil; accounts differ.

Zaapiel: punishes those with wicked souls

Zadkiel: angel of prayer, affirmation, guidance, and spiritual development

Zafrire: morning spirits

Zagzagel: angel of wisdom, who teaches how to listen and see inwardly

Zephon: guardian prince of Paradise

Zuphlas: angel of trees, who provides stability, protection, strength, and longevity

Zuriel: angel of harmony, who encourages sociability and the appreciation of beauty

Artistic depictions of angels vary widely--male or female, winged or wingless, from flowing robes to military tunics and breastplates to the fiery wheels/spheres of the Ophanim mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Sometimes angels are gentle, kind, and helpful, sometimes they are pretty badass like our friend with the sword pictured above.

Perhaps you are one of the many thousands of angel devotees who look toward the divine messengers for daily inspiration and guidance. Or perhaps you, like me, are fascinated by the concept of these supernatural beings that continue appear in religion, mythology, art, music, and literature from all over the world. Maybe you're simply a fan of the Los Angeles Angels baseball team. Regardless, if there are such things as guardian angels, I hope yours watches out for you today and always.

Thank you for sticking with me for the A to Z challenge! Hope to see you again very soon.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Y: Yggdrasill

It's another world tree for today! Yggdrasill, the great cosmic ash tree, may be more familiar than yesterday's, as it comes from Norse mythology. It grows out of the Well of Urd, and its branches spread wide to cover the whole world and span the heavens. Of the three wide roots, one extends to the Aesir (the gods), another to the land of the Frost Giants, and the last into the cold, misty land of Nifelheim. That third root is constantly gnawed on by Nidhogg, the dragon.

An eagle perches at the top of the tree, with a hawk sitting between its eyes. Ratatosk the squirrel runs up and down the trunk, carrying messages between the eagle and the dragon, and stirring up trouble. Because, squirrels. Four stags wander among the branches, nibbling at the new growth.

Three women known as the Norns (the fates) live near a fountain of holy water (the Urdar-fount) under the third root. (In German folklore, the Norns appear as fairy godmothers or spinners.) The gods hang around down there, too. Every day, the Norns draw water and sprinkle the branches to keep Yggdrasill healthy. Two swans drink from the Urdar-fount, and from them all other swans are descended.

I just love the imagery: gods and fates and other assorted characters living together--sometimes peacefully, sometimes not--on and around a tree that brings balance to the nine realms of the Norse universe.

Friday, April 27, 2018

X: Xochiquetzal

Image result for xochiquetzal goddess

Xochiquetzal ("Precious Feather Flower" in Nahuatl) is the Aztec goddess of beauty, love, and the arts, including painting, weaving, sculpting, and embroidery. Patroness of lovers and prostitutes, she once seduced a priest and then turned him into a scorpion. (Maybe it was something he said.) She is also associated with flowers and plants, which is fitting because she was the wife of Tlaloc, the rain god. Her festival included offerings of marigolds.

In a plot twist reminiscent of the story of Persephone and Hades, Xochiquetzal was abducted by Tezcatlipoca, the malevolent god of night. He was perhaps motivated by the fact that she never showed her age, always appearing in the "bloom of youth." Talk about the ultimate trophy wife. Her hubby Tlaloc never came to fetch her, but Tezcatlipoca eventually let her go free. Xochiquetzal returned to the Aztec paradise of Tamoanchan, the home of the gods.

Humans could reach Tamoanchan after death, but it took some work. First, they had to pass through Xibalba, the "place of fright," where one would face rivers of blood, attack by obsidian knives, and underworld gods with cheery names such as Pus Master and Skull Sceptre. After getting through that ordeal, the dead could then begin the long, slow process of climbing their way up Xochitlicacan, the Tree of Life. 

Thanks to the Aztecs, I was able to work three X's into today's post. Feeling pretty proud of myself :-) 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

W: Woodpecker

See the source image

The woodpecker is a familiar sight and sound in many places around the world, with the exception of Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, Madagascar, and the poles. It has a strong, straight beak and a sticky tongue for finding and extracting insects from tree trunks and branches. Interestingly, the pecking causes the bird's skull to heat up, which is why they do it in bursts with cool-down breaks in between. They can be noisy little buggers, especially if they decide to start drumming on your chimney or rainspouts.

The birds also figure prominently in religion and mythology. They are considered lucky by many western Native Americans, and bring happiness and friendship. Europeans thought the birds were harbingers of changes in the weather. The Babylonians associated them with fertility. In Greek mythology, the woodpecker was a bird of prophecy and magical powers and was sacred to Zeus and Ares. In Roman mythology, it was named Picus and was widely worshiped in ancient Italy. The early Christians weren't huge fans, however, and identified woodpeckers with the devil.

Thanks to the red-headed trouble-maker named Woody Woodpecker, the bird has been a part of American popular culture since 1940. In this guise, Woody embodies the trickster--the cunning and/or foolish rule-breaker.

For any of you unfamiliar with Woody's iconic laugh, here it is (apologies in advance):