Wednesday, December 17, 2014

'Tis the Season for Making Lists

by Shirley Drew

I was reading an article in “Huff Post Home” called “The One Thing That Successful People Do Every Day -- That You're Getting Wrong.” The main point is captured in the following quote:

“They have successfully mastered the to-do list, which guides their day.”

As I began reading, I thought, Well then I should be extremely successful—I’m a master at writing to-do lists! Reading further, however, the article stresses that the successful person also completes her to-do lists. Bah humbug, I say! So just to show them (whoever they are) that I am dedicated to completion, I decided to write a list of “Three Important Lessons I Learned in 2014.” And because I’ve already learned these lessons, I can call it complete, right? Okay, that argument’s a little thin. Still it was the link I needed to share my list with you. Hopefully, my learning will edify you as well. So here goes:

Three Important Lessons I Learned in 2014:

1. Reading instructions is important. Long story short, I had a crock pot of stew blow up on the stove. Stew everywhere. It took my husband and me two hours to clean the kitchen. What was the crock pot doing on the stove? I was trying to rush the cooking process because I had students coming over that evening. I wanted to get the stew boiling before putting the crock back in the container and plugging it in. Evidently, you're not supposed to do that. As I was finally putting everything away later that evening, I noticed something written on the side of the metal container for the crock pot: Do not put crock or base on stove burner. Who knew?

2. Reading emails (in their entirety) is important. Because I sometimes (okay, most times) skim my emails, I missed my "first Monday of every month" meeting at 3 p.m. on December 1. Then I went to my Investment Club Christmas party at 6 p.m. that same night. We meet on the second Monday of every month, so our party was guessed it...for the following Monday. Of course, if I’d read my emails more carefully, I wouldn’t have been driving down a dark street calling another member to check the address for the party. Sad but true.

3. Investing in a Click n Dig Key Finder Wireless RF Item Locator Remote Control, Pet, Wallet, Keyfinder is a good idea. I kind of feel like I’m saying, “I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle!” Yeah, a cool idea, but when you reach your 50’s it’s a key-finder you want. I lose my keys—and my glasses, and my remote control, least a dozen times each day. No exaggeration. So I have every intention of asking Santa to bring me a “Click n Dig” for Christmas. Though I haven’t quite figured out what I’ll do when I lose my “Click n Dig.”

Merry Christmas, everyone,and I hope that Santa brings you everything on your list!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Monday Rerun: A Christmas Carol

Post by Jenny

In the car last week, after hearing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for the umpteenth time, my younger son asked me who would tell “scary ghost stories” at Christmas. The only example that came to my mind was A Christmas Carol. A few nights later, when we watched the recent animated version starring Jim Carrey, my point was proven as the ghost of Marley rattled his chains and gave Scrooge the fright of his miserable life. The movie had its share of creepy moments, which prompted my sons to proclaim it to be “a little dark.” Well, it is a ghost story, after all.

As Dickens wrote in the preface: “I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.” Dickens began writing A Christmas Carol in October of 1843. He took six weeks to finish it, and, after a few production disagreements about endpapers and bindings, the novella was released on December 19 of that year. (I think the guy was definite NaNoWriMo material.)

The book was an immediate success, so much so that even the Americans, whom Dickens had alienated with some of his earlier work, fell under its spell. In the many years since, A Christmas Carol has inspired a host of adaptations for film, stage, TV, and print, including opera, graphic novels, more versions starring animals than I can count, and very likely the story of another, much greener, holiday curmudgeon who sees the error of his ways (The Grinch, of course).

Though Dickens went on to write four more Christmas novellas, none achieved the popular and critical success of his first. I’m no Dickensian scholar, so I won’t delve into the particulars of the author’s life or the zeitgeist of Victorian England and its parallels in today’s society. I just appreciate the story for its most basic messages: Be generous. Be kind. Be grateful for friends and family. Celebrate. And if your front door knocker gives you a piece of its mind, prepare for a very restless night.

Do you have a favorite adaptation of A Christmas Carol?

Friday, December 12, 2014


by Kelly

Recently, I had a conversation with another writer about breaking The Rules. I can’t tell you her name (anonymity is her only protection), but trust me when I say she’s a very successful author.
We talked about how writers can get so caught up in the rules of writing (AKA whatever Stephen King tells us) that we limit our creativity. She told me a story about a sentence she wrote, one that now appears on the dedication page of her best-selling novels. Her writer’s group absolutely hated it:
“They critiqued it to death. So I took it to a co-worker and he said, ‘This is what needs to be said, don’t let people pick it apart.’”
Her advice? Allow yourself to let go of the restraints and write without that inner editor whitewashing everything.
Don’t worry, I’m not going completely vigilante. Writing rules are there for a reason.  I look back at my earlier creative work and cringe at the amount of adverbs that drip from the pages. Passive voice also features prominently, along with -ing words.
mr. tSometimes, however, a little grammatical bling is necessary. It’s the place where art bypasses mechanics in the writing process. (Just remember, not Mr. T bling, Kate Middleton bling.)
I leave you with these rule-breaking sentences for thought. Don’t let your inner editor ruin them.
“Beauty is an enormous, unmerited gift given randomly, stupidly.”
—Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed
“She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.”
—J. D. Salinger, A Girl I Knew
“She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.”
—Kate Chopin, The Awakening
“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart; I am, I am, I am.”
—Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
"Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
—Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz
Rhett Butler, Gone with the Wind

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lessons From the Keyboard

Piano Keyboard by Sarah Sullivan

Last year I began taking piano lessons. I fancied myself a musical sort, having studied voice in high school and college and having taught myself some basic songs on the keyboard years ago when I had the luxury of time, easily picking my way through simple melodies by ear. So a year ago when I packed my youngest child off to school I knew the time was right to enlist my son’s piano teacher and make my musical mark. Soon, I imagined, my eyes would be darting across a scored page, my fingers moving adroitly over the keys filling our home with beautiful sonatas. 

Fast forward to this evening and me planted in the basement banging away at some hackneyed version of Silent Night on our hand-me-down upright that the piano tuner tells me needs at least $400.00 worth of work to sound truly in-tune. It wasn’t quite what I had imagined, but it’s good to dream. 

Learning an instrument, like learning to write, is done note by note not in some flurry of inspired genius even though I keep hoping something in life will turn out that way. Still, playing the piano is a nice accompaniment to writing. It reminds me that it’s the little victories that count. Writing a graceful sentence or playing a graceful phrase, finding exactly the right word or note, and ending with a flourish is a thrill unlike any other. 

Discipline and consistency are key to both pursuits, neither of which I’m particularly good at, but it keeps me moving in the right direction. it’s plugging away with lots of stops and starts. It’s lurching forward into the body of a piece despite the fact that the beginning isn’t yet perfect and the ending is no where in sight. It’s finding contentment in good enough because there simply isn’t time for apogee. 

I’m 47 years old now and I can play a few songs that sound fluid and familiar and sometimes I write something that that I’m proud to call my own. My skills have grown little by little, word by word, note by note, piece by piece. I like to envision a time in the future when my children are grown and I sit in the half light of my living room at my baby grand piano and play one of Bach’s Inventions with ease. After finishing the last note, I carefully close the fallboard and tuck into my favorite reading chair with a glass of brandy and a good book with my name on the cover. Perhaps it won't look exactly like that, but it's good to dream. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

To Give is to Create

By Rich

Tomorrow, December 9th, is the annual Colorado Gives Day in my home state. It's a time for many folks to donate monies to the numerous non-profit organizations across the Great Plains, Front Range, and Western Slope. The list of groups looking for assistance this holiday season is too large to mention, so I'll refer you to their website.

However, I am going to mention one group of organizations which should receive your assistance. Not just in Colorado but across America. These are the arts, humanities, and culture groups that entertain and teach millions of folks in thousands of towns and cities.

Here's the thing -- there's more to creativity than just writing. There, I said it! I'll wait a moment until you get off the floor. In fact, much of what goes on in arts & humanities begets authors, and vice-versa. For instance, an author may have a fantastic story or manuscript turned into a play. Or, perhaps, a director loves a book so much he or she turns it into a movie. Conversely, a painting, sculpture, or a song may inspire a writer to transform it into a story. It's the Circle of Life, minus that whole eating each other thing.

To put it another way, creativity is an intricate and interconnecting web of artists, musicians, actors, playwrights, librarians, and, yes, authors. To make sure these folks reach their pinnacles through teaching and participation, an intricate and interconnecting web of donations to the organizations which help them is needed. And, like in the Circle of Life, it comes back to you.

So, tomorrow, please help those arts, culture, and humanities organizations in Colorado which assist current and new creatives to excel. And for those who don't live in Colorado, donate anyway, even if your local group says they aren't accepting donations right now. Trust me, they'll be happy for whatever you can provide.

You can find the list of Arts, Culture, and Humanities organizations accepting donations via Colorado Gives Day at this site.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Santa's Little Helper

By Sarah Reichert

Her creepy, dead-eyed stare pierces into my back.  I glance away from my list, filled with hours of things to keep me away from my work in progress.

Her eyes are like blue stones above her smirking elf mouth.  A stare-down ensues.  Her red felt hands fold demurely in her lap.  

A sugar plum spy, laced with wagging fingers and tsk-ing tongue.  She’s looking right through me.  I feel a nervous sweat break out on my forehead as I hear her jingling shrill voice begin to reprimand.

“Sarah…Saaaaaarrraaahhhh…What are you doing, Sarah?”

I swallow down my guilt like a kid caught stealing, only instead of candy, I’m stealing time away from my book. 

“Just…I’m just busy!  I’ve got things—“!
“Saaarrraaahh…you’re lying to me.  You wouldn’t lie to Santa’s little helper, would you?”

“No!  Of course no…not…no…wait a minute!  You’re supposed to be spying on the kids.  I’m an adult!”

She only answers with that damn smirk. 

“You wouldn’t…tell…Santa.” My voice trails off weakly.

“Oh, Saaaraaahhh,” she giggles.  “I won’t tell Santa.”

“You won’t?”  I let go of a tense breath.

“I’ll tell your editor.” Then she laughs like a maniacal, Claymation holiday special gone horribly wrong.

“Okay!  Okay!”  I click open my work in progress and stare over the screen at her.  “Santa’s little narc is more like it.  Big elf is watching,” I mutter.


“What about the cookies?” I counter.

“What about your word count?”

“What about the packages?  The shopping?  The Christmas cards?”

“What about your giant, gaping plot hole?  Reindeer could fly through it,” she giggles with a sound like candy canes on a chalkboard.

“The kid’s school play!  Won’t someone think of the children?” I yell with my fists in the air, a la Charlton Heston.  I channel quite the Oscar worthy performance.

“Who are you yelling at?” Says my husband from behind me. 

“Damn, dirty, Christmas elf.” I mutter quietly.  He looks at the cheerful, red-donned cherub on the mantle.

“Are you talking to the elf again?”

“She’s nagging me!”

“Stay out of the cookies, Sarah.  I think you’ve had too much sugar.”

“Too much elf is more like it,” I mumble.  I start typing.  And once I start, it’s very hard to imagine why I didn’t want to be here in the first place.

It’s more a gift to myself than anything else. 

“See?  I tooooold you!” she whispers and I swear she winks.

“Shut it, Magic Sparkle-Farts,” I say, but with a warm smile.  “Just remember, snitches get stitches.” 

She giggles.

How do you keep up with your writing in the busy holiday season?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Gratitude: It's A Way of Life

by Shirley Drew

As we’ve recently celebrated Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude. I am grateful for many things: my husband, my family (including the canine members), my friends, my colleagues, and my love for books and for writing. And then last, but certainly not least, a wonderful job that allows me to do what I love: teach, learn, read, and of course, write. Being a teacher has been a privilege I’ve been granted for over 25 years.

But it was only a couple of years ago when I questioned whether I should give up teaching and retire early. There were many things happening in higher education (and still are) that made me question how much longer I could stay. Then, I had a falling out with a co-worker that literally rocked me—a disagreement about a student’s final master’s project that put us in a gridlock. While that was eventually resolved, I found myself again questioning myself: What am I doing here? I had reached a sort of nexus, where all my doubts about my role in academic life came together. Over time, with a summer away and a lot of self-reflection, I recovered from my malaise, though not completely.

Then a couple of weeks ago I attended a conference in Chicago for my professional organization, the National Communication Association. One of the sessions I attended was a day-long workshop. We focused on how to make our academic writings more accessible to public audiences. Inevitably, the conversation turned to some of the challenges of academic life. Two of the presenters showed a short documentary depicting some of the more disheartening aspects of our profession and the feelings of alienation we all experience at times. After this session, the final speaker, Art Bochner, came forward. He is a well-known and highly respected scholar and teacher who has been doing what he does for more than four decades.

In his opening comments, he commended all the presenters who had spoken that day. Then he followed with this question: “Why are there are so many dead souls in the academy?” At that, you could’ve heard the proverbial pin drop. “We need to be mindful,” he said, “about how we talk about our lives as professors. Embrace the life and the joy that we have in the work. Pay attention to the narratives that we are situated in and that we take for granted.” In reference to our feelings of alienation, he said, “The University is becoming a culture of fear. People who are afraid will not speak. But we can do something about these things.” He continued. “While we ask ourselves, 'are we reaching the public?' Hell—are we reaching ourselves?!” He pointed out that we are reaching the public, and asked us to think about how many students we have taught—and touched in some way—over our lives as professors. Finally, he said: “Being a professor is not a job; it’s not even a career…it’s a way of life.”

As he sat down, I felt tears in my eyes. Because he is right. It is a privilege to do what I do. Because not only do I get to teach—I get to learn. I get to read. I get to write. And maybe because I am allowed to do these things now, when I am ready, I will be better prepared to be a full time writer. So teach. Learn. Read. And most of all, write. It’s a privilege to do so.

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