Category Archives: On Writing

Actions Speak Louder Than Nouns

My previous post being a self-description in verbs prompted me to think of the nouns that reflect who I am. I was not surprised to find far fewer words for my list. Proof that you can call yourself whatever you want, but it’s what you do that shows who you are. And what am I?

Nurse. Mother. Grandmother. Wife. Lover. Friend. Counselor. Confidant. Writer. Reader. Researcher. Editor. Reviewer. Student. Teacher. Housekeeper. Cook. Planner. Buyer. Dancer. Dreamer. Designer. Quilter. Seamstress. Neighbor. Witness (to the world around me).

This is not a narcissistic exercise, but more a flexing of the character-development muscles. Action determines who you are and so what better way to paint a portrait of your characters than by using verbs. How better to explain their personality, idiosyncrasies and tendencies than by showing what they do?

Who and what the characters are matters to story as well, but not as much as what they do. One could say that verbs give life meaning. Verbs give life. Imagine reading a story where nobody does anything. Or anything of consequence. How long would that keep your attention?

In my fiction writing studies during the past six months, I kept hearing the same thing over and over. Build a strong character, make her want something and then make her suffer before she gets it (happy ending) or doesn’t get it (tragedy). During the course of this suffering, she has to fight little battles until she gets to the one big major battle that will determine what her life will be from then on, or if it will even be.

Thinking about all this made me see myself as a character. And what better way to practice than to put yourself under a linguistic microscope, if you will, for the sake of learning. Besides, didn’t Socrates say the unexamined life is not worth living?

Doing this “examination” was somewhat of a revelation. A positive one. It helped me see that though I faced many hurdles along the way, as most of us do, I managed to do a lot. And I know that my monster battle, what makes me suffer, is RA. That battle is locked and the winner shall be determined one day.

But meanwhile, I’m still here. Alive and kicking! Ready to write more and continue with my studies. I was tempted to do adjectives, but I won’t. And adverbs, forget it. Those -ly words are persona non grata, though personally I feel they have their uses. Oops, I said ‘personally.’

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Self-Portrait in Verbs

While reading Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch, Let Verbs Power Your Writing by Constance Hale, I couldn’t help but wonder; who am I in verbs?

Care. Love. Value. Invest. Hug. Kiss. Worry. Hurt. Hunger. Hope. Pine. Cry. Rejoice. Expect. Wish. Babysit. Laugh. Play.

Plan. Sew. Crochet. Quilt. Design. Construct. Volunteer. Help. Donate.

Walk. Bike. Dance. Drive. Shop. Spend. Save. Enjoy. Cook. Clean. Eat. Drink. Celebrate. Share

See. Hear. Speak. Object. Flout. Argue. Understand. Empathize. Sympathize. Simplify. Clarify. Complicate. Resolve. Lend. Borrow.

Murmur. Mutter. Whisper. Shout. Madden. Sadden. Gladden. Reminisce. Feel. Fear. Respond. Need. Want. Despair. Fold. Rest. Sleep. Dream. Imagine. Fantasize. Wonder.

Procrastinate. Text. Email. Avoid. Sit. Work. Write. Rewrite. Read. Research. Compile. Compose. Edit. Agonize. Learn. Study. Critique. Review. Collect. Envy. Aspire. Appreciate. Wander. Travel. Blog. Remember. Forget.

Teach. Manage. Encourage. Support. Mentor. Listen. Calm. Give. Advise. Counsel.

Pray. Question. Doubt. React. Accept. Think. Live. Breathe. Survive. Wait. Tolerate. Confer. Consult. Ache, Ail. Medicate. Limp (upon occasion).

Words

I see the beginning of another year as though it were a new journal. An untouched, immaculate journal offering 365 silken, virgin pages waiting to be filled. Its leather cover soft, pliable and devoid of fingerprints. It is unmarked, raw and fresh, and cries out for words to be written upon it. Words of all types: kind words, angry words, sad words, happy words. Words of hope as well as words of despair. Words offering solace and words inflicting pain, even though we might not wish it to be so.

An unbiased witness, this journal awaits to capture life as we perceive it. To act as a steadfast friend offering us the ephemeral chance to write another chapter in our book of life. Perhaps even to rewrite a previous one so that we might yet give it the heretofore unattainable happy ending.

What words will we write in this new journal?

What words will this New Year make us write?

What, Me Worry?

I had an epiphany this morning. I woke up as I usually do, with my youngest child on my mind. She is far from home and worrying about her comes as natural to me as breathing. She was hoping to come home for Christmas, but that won’t be feasible. That in itself is disappointing, and though I miss her dearly I can deal with it.

What I do have trouble with is the fact that she is living all alone in New York City. These past months I have made several attempts to get her to come home, but she is bound and determined to stay there and try to make it into the journalistic world. Free room and board is not enough to entice her; she’d rather rough it up there, working at whatever she can find while she keeps “writing on the side.”

I’m glad she’s writing, and though at this point the publications she writes for don’t pay, at least she’s adding to her portfolio. I suppose I could romanticize her present status and think of her as a starving artist, but the starving part doesn’t sit very well with me. Besides, she’s already tiny enough that a stiff breeze could blow her away.

I try to convince myself that she is all right; that she is an adult now, capable of making her own decisions. I tell myself that I don’t need to hear from her daily, that I don’t have to wait up for her to text me she’s safe in her room anymore.  I remind myself that I must keep my stress level in check, that RA loves any and all enablers. And RA has had its way with me for long enough.

And then this morning it hit me. Why am I worrying about her walking the streets of New York when she’s walked the streets of Casablanca, Tangier, Accra, Cape Town, Penang, Ho Chi Min City, Hue City, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Mumbai, Delhi, Tokyo, Yokohama and Puntarenas during her Semester at Sea voyage around the world? And before that were the streets of Paris and Amsterdam during her European trip, which seems so long ago I barely remember the other countries on the itinerary besides Germany and Norway.

Added to that are the four years she spent trekking up and down busy Commonwealth Avenue attending university in Boston. There was no set apart campus there; she was right smack in the middle of the big city. And how can I forget the months she spent roaming the entire country by car the summer she was twenty, accompanied by three other twenty-year-olds. If she could handle driving the L.A. freeways, something I couldn’t get myself to do when I lived there, what exactly am I worried about?

She’s logged more miles than the rest of her family put together and at this point only Australia, South America and the North and South Poles lack her footprints.  She has no fear of new places, meeting new people or of being alone. Her school teachers weren’t off the mark when they noted that she was self-directed and self-sufficient in her yearly reports.

She’s known to accomplish whatever she sets her mind to and her wish now is to become a travel writer. I suppose she has compiled more material during her 22 years than most people will in a lifetime. I have to say I don’t know anyone else quite like her.

“She’s different, isn’t she?” my son said to me while I visited him last month.

“Yes,” I responded. “She is.”

A little girl, a great big world.

A little girl, a great big world.

No matter how old she gets, she will always be 3 to me.

No matter how old she gets, she will always be 3 to me.

The feet that have roamed the world.

The feet that have roamed the world.

A Lover’s Dream

I met a man
Who isn’t there
He isn’t there
Quite obviously

His form arose
Out of the fog
The misty fog
Enveloped me

His shape now blurry
Yet I still see
His gentleness
Exquisitely

He moved toward me
I felt assured
and waited for him
Breathlessly

So long of hair
with eyes too kind
He looked at me
Endearingly

I felt him reach,
reach out to me
To touch me oh,
So lovingly

A gravelly voice
Whispered to me
Whispered to me
Incessantly

Assuaged my day
and lulled my night
he made me dream
perpetually

Who is this man
no longer there?
No longer there
lamentably

(This is a reworking of a poem I wrote on February 2, 2011.)

Dream Visit

My father came to me last night in a dream. He looked as he did at my age, robust and strong. I was as I am now, as he gently escorted me down a busy city street to a night class. Traffic boomed all around us, headlights ablaze, and he did not speak as we walked amidst many others. Before leaving me, he pointed out the building I should go into as if I didn’t already know, and then he held me in his arms and kissed me on the cheek, his stubble rough against my skin.

Though I don’t often dream about my father, I still feel him with me these many years after his death. He was a simple man who put family above all. He believed in paying his way and if he couldn’t pay, he would do without. And we did, do without. Yet, I never went hungry or lacked a roof over my head. And it was only long after I’d left home that I realized how poor we truly were.

The following story, I believe, depicts my father better than I can using just words. I wrote it March of this year.

Poverty’s Prism

My father walked into our home, bloodied.

“Hijo, que te pasó?” Mamá leapt to her feet.

“Papá, what happened to you?” I echoed. His khaki pants were drenched in blood and he held one hand within the other. Between the two was a blood-soaked rag.

We followed him as he trudged through the living room and into the dining room. Taking his usual seat at the head of the table, he sat hunched over his hands. With a long sigh he slowly separated them and as he let go, a stream of blood spurted out.

I grabbed his hand and instinctively applied pressure to his wound. My mother hovered about us, unsure what to do. My father sat mute as I pressed down and squeezed his hand in both of mine with all my might.

“Que pasó?” my mother whispered, her voice tremulous.

“Me caí,” my father said simply.

“How did you fall, Papá?” I looked down at him, my heart also bleeding. After work, he’d gone to visit his own father in the hospital.

“Antonio argued with me. When he walked away, I tried to follow him, but I slipped and fell.”

My father had many brothers. They all lived near us in that small south Texas town, but we hardly ever saw them. And whenever their father was ill, they made themselves scarcer.

My grandfather lived but a few blocks down the street from us, yet we never saw him. My father had married the woman of his own choosing and my grandfather did not approve. Therefore, the six children that resulted from this marriage were not recognized by him. In his eyes, my father was single and childless.

Oftentimes while sitting on our front porch, I would catch my grandfather passing by. He seemed to quicken his pace as he neared our home, marching tall and straight, his beige Stetson firmly on his head. His pale skin was ruddy from the sun and his flowing mustache and hair were as white as snow. I followed him with eyes that did not exist.

My father never spoke to us about him, but in our tiny house not much was secret. It was easy to overhear our parents’ conversations, if we’d a mind to. I usually felt nothing toward my grandfather, but now my anger flared knowing he was somehow at fault for my father’s injury.

“Where did you fall?” I released the pressure slightly and the red migrated onto the white handkerchief my mother had stuffed on top of the saturated rag.

“I fell against the glass door. It shattered.”

“Where?”

“At the Emergency Room.”

I was speechless for a moment.

“And they didn’t take care of you?”

“No, I left in a hurry before they could see I did it.”

“But, Papá, this hand needs to be seen. You need stitches. We need to go back there right now!”

“I can’t, Mijita.”

“But, why not?”

“Because they’ll make me pay for the glass.”

I was shocked into silence. I realized then that my father did not see this as an accident, as something that the hospital would attempt to rectify by rendering him care. He instead considered himself culpable. He’d broken the glass door and now he was responsible and we had no money.

I sensed his fear and his stubbornness. And though I tried to get him to seek care that night, I could not convince him. At the age of fourteen, my words did not carry much weight and he refused to return to the scene of the crime.

When his bleeding slowed, I cleaned and dressed his hand, taping it as tightly as I could. The next morning our family doctor would tend to him and the wound would eventually heal without further complication.

My grandfather lived to go home once more, until one day he returned to the same hospital for the last time. My father was there for his every need. Thankfully, his brothers were not.

Write, I Do

One of my goals lately has been to establish a writing routine and produce a certain number of words each day. In attempting to meet this goal, I joined a writing site that requires me to log in and do just that. This site faithfully keeps a word tally and tracks who is fully participating.

Every day I get an email reminding me to write my words. Unfortunately that email goes to an account I consistently forget to check. Every so often I remember, and then I feel a little guilty when I go in and delete several weeks’ worth of reminders. For a few minutes I feel bad that I am not letting the site count my words.

This exercise is supposed to be done first thing in the morning, to clear your head and get you ready to seize the day, to accept open-minded the onslaught of words that this process unleashes. If you keep at it, the theory goes, you will soon have a manuscript of sorts in your hot little hand. The idea is sound, if you can get yourself to follow a linear thought for 300 pages, or 60,000 to 90,000 words.

I don’t know if it’s that I don’t have the discipline, or maybe the tenacity, to stick with one work in progress, or that I am stretching myself too thin having more than one WIP.  I know which one I want to finish editing and polishing; I just can’t make myself do it. The subject matter is still a little raw for me perhaps. Or maybe I’ve been letting it stew a little too long in my consciousness.

But, I know I will get to it, when the time is right because write, I do. Every day. And since I gave myself the assignment of posting daily on this blog for the month of December, I find a myriad of ideas suffusing my brain. The list of topics or situations I want to write about keeps getting longer.

I don’t know if I will be able to develop them all during this month; it is going by faster than I expected. But, I will keep jotting them down and expanding on them on my trusty index cards for future essays, blog posts, fiction and nonfiction pieces.

And I think I will relieve that particular website from its daily email duties to me. It’s a good idea, but obviously not for this writer, or at least not yet.

Plus-Sized Woman

plus2

If I can still get into my size 8 jeans that stretch up to a full size, am I still a size 8?

They are snug, but I don’t have to hold my breath to zip them up or anything. And once on, they don’t bind; I forget I have them on even.

There’s just no forgetting one fact. I’m fatter than I was when I bought them. They were loose on me back then. My husband would stick his hand in the gap that swelled at my lower back and exclaim, “You need a smaller size!” And he was right, I was constantly having to pull them up; actually I still do though not as much, or as often.

But, the mirror and the scale do not lie. This year, I have added ten pounds to my physical repertoire. And the extra weight has two favorite places to settle on my body, my tummy and my caboose. My jeans, being low-rise, are not much affected by my fuller waistline, but the other side, well; let’s just say a certain hand doesn’t fit in there anymore. Though I have to admit to not hearing any complaints.

Regardless, I have one. A complaint, that is. Or maybe I should say I have ten, one for each pound of added weight. The view might have improved from his perspective, but not from mine. As much as I dislike what I see, I have to remember that the mirror is my friend. And it’s telling me it’s time to get serious about some deletion. Would that losing weight could be as easy as hitting clear-alt-delete. I’d be hitting those keys ten times in quick succession.

Since that’s not gonna happen any time soon, I am left with only one alternative. Hit the exercise bike. It’s been sad and lonely out in my patio waiting for me. My exercise gear is stowed away somewhere in this house; I’ll have to see about digging it up while it still fits. It doesn’t come cheap. Another motivator.

And it’s not that I eat a lot or eat the wrong things. It’s that I listened too intently to my writing professor. She suggested we buy lots of chair glue. You know, to keep us in that chair, writing. I spent all summer doing that, reading about writing and writing about writing. As a result, my knowledge has improved tremendously. I just don’t want to measure my progress as a writer by the size of my ass.

Besides, I read that each extra pound of weight puts ten pounds of stress on your joints. And with my RA that is not good, not good at all. So, the amount of chair glue will have to be counterbalanced by an amount of bicycle seat glue. I will try an eight to one ratio for starters.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not fixated on weight so much as my health. I have never been and will never be the size of those emaciated runway models. It seems the fashion industry considers anyone who isn’t a size zero, a plus-sized woman. Well, I’m proud to be on the positive end of the number line. As long those size 8 jeans fit like they use to.

A Vignette

“You have very pretty hands,” she says.

I am busy signing a stack of papers. We are finally doing the deed, filing last year’s taxes.

“I have Rheumatoid Arthritis hands,” I say, taken aback by this unexpected comment. “RA loves your hands.”

“They are pretty,” the tax lady continues. “Women pay for nails like that.”

“She’s always had pretty hands,” my husband pipes in, stopping me in mid “thank you”. Now I’m really stunned; compliments I hear, but never about my hands.

I become self-conscious as I maneuver my fingers to keep the sheaf of papers flipped to one side so I can sign and date the various documents. I’m just glad to finally get this chore done. I’m exhausted from having spent hours over the previous days adding up dollars and cents gleaned from the ton of medical and pharmacy receipts accumulated. Truthfully to no avail, or to very little avail.

I’d put this off all year, filing for an extension. An extension that was rejected, the tax lady now informs us, making the day chock-full of surprises. My pen still, I stare at her in concern, what exactly does that mean? No matter, she says with a shrug. I mimic her shrug and go back to my signing.

“Did you have a problem? Were you not able to file before?”

“No,” I tell her, “I was angry and didn’t want to do it.”

My husband laughs. “There you go,” he says to her.

I ignore him.

“I was angry about my identity being stolen,” I say. “I wanted to wait.”

“Yes,” she commiserates and goes on to tell us horror stories of how hackers are able to capture your private information. It’s a terrible thing to have your identity stolen and it’s left to you to prove who you are when you’ve done nothing wrong.

During the year-long process it took to resolve this, I couldn’t help but wonder, Who am I? And who in the world wants to be me?

But the one question that burned through my mind was this: If you went through the trouble of stealing my identity, why didn’t you also steal my RA? You can have that for free, whoever you are. No questions asked, ever. You can rest assured I will never try to get that back.

The prolonged process of filing over, I stick my copies in my briefcase and stand up.

“Thank you for everything,” I say, “now I’m going to go have a drink.”

She stands up as well. “Where are you going to go have a drink?”

“I’m taking her to this steak place,” my husband tells her, as I start walking toward the exit.

I feel her eyes follow me out, perhaps because it’s only noon.

(Written Oct 12, 2012)

Why We Write

Is it to fill the void?

Or is it to empty ourselves of what we can no longer hold within?

Sometimes I think the reason I write is the same reason I get up in the morning. Because I have to. But in truth, I don’t really know why I write. Maybe it is to share the joy, or maybe I do it to ease the pain. Perhaps it is to use the new words I just learned and sound so delicious that I must see them and hear them. For I always read aloud what I write, to hear the flow, the rhythm, the melody that words can at times produce. Even without our assistance.

I write many things, short pieces and long pieces. Fiction, nonfiction and sometimes a cross between.   I suppose I write what is next in the pipeline, waiting its turn to burst out. I go from one genre to another; I don’t know why that is either. I would love to sit and work on a book from start to finish. But, which one?

They say write the book you want to read. That is sound advice, except for me it doesn’t quite work. I read so many genres; there is no specific one I want to read. I want to read all of them.

Sometimes writing is therapy for me. Normally you pay for therapy, but in this instance I am going to see if I can make this “therapy” pay me. In the coming days I plan to share some pieces I have written. Some are funny, some are sad, some are just silly. But, they are all a collection of my words.

And I will continue to write, as that is an incurable condition with me, while I concentrate on the other projects I assigned myself for this month. Did I think I was Wonder Woman?

I’d love to know why you write.

Just completed this baby blanket for my newborn granddaughter. She looks so beautiful in yellow.
Just completed this baby blanket for my newborn granddaughter. She looks so beautiful in yellow.
Making this blanket as a Christmas gift for my father-in-law. A third of the way done!
Making this blanket as a Christmas gift for my father-in-law. A third of the way done.
And sewing this Christmas tree skirt for my daughter-in-law. The ruffle still needs to be made and attached.

Sewing this Christmas tree skirt for my daughter-in-law. She wanted blue. The ruffle still needs to be made and attached. And there’s four more projects pending. The suspense, will there be enough time before Christmas? I suppose time will tell! And why are my other captions not showing up as captions? What gives?