Tag Archives: writing

New Latitude, Episode 3: Mouse in a Boat

If you follow “New Latitude,” my ongoing saga about moving, you were left with a cliffhanger last week. Would my mortgage application be approved? Well, the short answer is: Yes! It was!

But the long answer is: Yes … but I want to wait until I can get the COVID-19 vaccine before driving cross-country (or flying, if that’s what I decide to do) … which might be March or even later … so I don’t know yet when I can move … and I can’t even start packing yet!

I feel a little like a very small mouse in a fragile paper boat, about to set out on a wild journey without a compass, a paddle, or a companion (other than a slice of cheese). Actually, I don’t feel that way entirely, but the picture was so cute I decided to build my entire blog post around it! And in case you missed it the first time, here it is again!

Artist: Victoria Borodinova via Pixabay

In order to deal with the stormy seas of moving, I’ve discovered a few ways to stay afloat:

– music

– cooking

– TV-watching

– daily walks, and

– writing.

If you happen to be moving, remember to take a step back from all the planning and immerse yourself in something relaxing instead.

As far as writing goes, I’ve recently discovered a new Facebook group, “The Isolation Journals.” If you’re interested in writing prompts, or just want some interesting topics to ponder, you may want to join the group. It’s described as “an artist-led journaling community founded by Suleika Jaouad.” (Ms. Jaouad is a writer associated with musician Jon Batiste. I only know of her because I Googled Jon Batiste one night after watching him on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. That’s another way I maintain my sanity. Watching The Late Show, that is. Not Googling. Although that helps, too.)

I dipped my toe in The Isolation Journals a bit late (not until prompt #123, actually). Here’s that prompt:

How can your presence enhance the growth of your community?

I hastily scribbled a response and posted it to the group. I’ve already received two likes. Hey, maybe Jon Batiste will read my post!

Do you keep a journal? Have you moved or are you moving? I’d love to hear about your journey.

Happy winter solstice, everyone! And be sure to follow my blog so you won’t miss the next exciting episode of “New Latitude”!

The Curious Case of Life Imitating Art

The muse must have been looking over my shoulder yesterday because, unexpectedly, I stumbled upon a case of life imitating art. Or was art imitating life?

I’d spent most of the day walking my dog, talking with friends online, and reading Anna Quindlen’s novel, “Still Life with Breadcrumbs,” the story of a photographer whose career is in decline.

In late afternoon, I decided to take my car out for a spin, since the last time I’d started it up, it had been sluggish. I feared the battery was about to reach its moment of planned obsolescence. (That would be about par for 2020.) But I hoped that if I drove around for an hour or so, maybe I could revive it.

On a whim, I grabbed my camera before heading out (something I haven’t done in a while, since it’s been too hot during the day for photography). “You never know,” I thought, imagining for just a second a chance encounter with a dust devil, or maybe a space alien. The car sputtered to a reluctant start. Before it could die on me, I put it in gear and headed north.

My destination was Oracle, about half an hour up the road – an unincorporated town whose most famous resident to date has been Buffalo Bill Cody. En route, it occurred to me to plug in an audiobook that was in my phone.

Unfortunately, I’m not too good with modern audio systems in cars (or in phones, for that matter). In fact, I was surprised I’d managed to get the book copied into my phone at all. So as not to cause an accident, I turned off the main highway, Oracle Road, and onto Biosphere Road (which, inconsequentially, leads to Biosphere 2) in order to park, thumb through my owner’s manual, and figure out how to tell my car to read a book to me.

After a few hundred feet, I came to a turnaround. It looked like an ideal place for rattlesnakes and tarantulas to hang out, but I wasn’t planning to get out of the car and join their party, even if they were wearing masks. Heavy, dark storm clouds were gathering in the distance, and a few were above my head. I was anxious to queue up my book and get back on the road.

The clouds had other ideas. They suddenly moved out of the sun’s way, and a shaft of light landed on something smooth, tall, and bright along the trail: a scarred and dusty shrine in the middle of the desert.

It seemed to be a case of life imitating art. You see (spoiler alert), on page 37 in Still Life With Breadcrumbs, that book I’d been reading earlier that day, the protagonist goes for a hike in the woods and comes upon a shrine – a white wooden cross with a glittering child’s volleyball trophy lying on the ground next to it. She takes some photos.

I felt like life was trying to tell me something, so I shut off the engine, grabbed my camera, and got out of the car. Scoping out the ground for snakes or spiders, I cautiously approached the little memorial and took a few photos. As soon as I’d finished and gotten back in my car, I realized I might have made a mistake.

It was 107 degrees out, and there I was in the middle of the Arizona desert with a car whose battery was on its last legs. I wondered how long it would be before AAA could find me. I turned the key in the ignition. The engine choked for a few seconds, and then, reluctantly, it caught.

I sighed, turned the car around, and glanced back at the shrine, but by then the sun had ducked behind the clouds again; the scene was now in shadow. I’d gotten there just at the right moment.

All I could think of on the drive home was the phrase, “life imitates art.” So today I looked that up and learned a thing or two. The idea has been around since at least the time of Plato, who believed art was a poor imitation of life, and for that reason could be dangerous. Aristotle, on the other hand, welcomed art’s imitation of life. And Oscar Wilde’s take was that life imitates art more often than art imitates life. Even Dostoevsky got into the debate, describing it as more of a codependent relationship, where art imitates life, which then imitates art, causing life to owe its very existence to art.

As for me, I was totally flabbergasted by the way my life (finding the shrine) seemed to be imitating art (the book I’m reading). Or maybe art (the book) was imitating life (its pathos) which in turn was imitating art (the shrine). It’s something I thought was worth pondering, especially when I realized one more thread:

In “Still Life With Breadcrumbs,” the protagonist doesn’t notice a certain, possibly significant, detail on the cross until she gets home and enlarges the photo. That same thing happened to me – I didn’t notice the coins at the base of the statue until I got home. Can you spot them?

Shrine 5

I’ve searched online for other photos of this shrine but couldn’t find any, so I don’t know who it’s for. I wish I did. In any case, I think I’ll return soon and add some coins to their collection.

 

 

From My Isolation Outpost to Yours

Greetings from Lori’s Isolation Outpost, otherwise known as my home office. My disembodied voice is coming to you through the wonders of a website called WordPress. It’s an apt name for a space that allows me to figuratively “press” you (as opposed to shaking your hand or otherwise coming within six feet of you).

Isolation Outpost is actually my spare bedroom. It has an old oaken table, a sewing table, a dresser, a keyboard, a guitar, and a fake oriental rug where I do a few exercises each morning. (OK, maybe not every morning.) This is where I do office-y things like writing and editing photos. It’s also where I do non-office-y things like online shopping, checking my Facebook page for likes, watching YouTube videos, and researching important topics like how to copy and send mp3 files via email. No home office deduction for me, not after the IRS sees this post, anyway.

I guess since this site’s called WordPress, it would be appropriate to have a Word of the Day. Well, in that case, my word for the day today is PALPITATION. My heart’s been going ker-thump and ker-thumpity thump on and off for about a week now — in fact it’s doing it as I type this sentence. Palpitations can be brought on by any number of conditions, but in my case, I’m pretty sure it’s stress.

You wouldn’t know it to see me. In fact, you wouldn’t even know it to BE me. I look, act, and FEEL very calm most of the time. But I have a feeling this pandemic is getting to me in insidious ways. It may be my new normal. But I’m going to fight it. I’ll reduce my coffee intake, I’ll meditate, I’ll go for a walk, and I’ll watch more comedy. Yes. That’s my plan, anyway.

And I’ll keep taking photos. Here’s a juvenile vermilion flycatcher. He looks pretty chill.

Juvenile Male Vermilion Flycatcher-4

Adult vermilion flycatchers are brilliant red. (I once wrote a song inspired by one.) Young males like the one shown above look like they’ve been partially dipped in a bucket of orange paint. This one’s spreading his tail feathers to sun himself. Maybe I’ll do that today — sun myself, that is. A walkabout in the Arizona sunshine would do my heart good. And maybe it’ll inspire another song!

Here’s a roadrunner I saw a few days ago, also sunning its tail feathers.

Road Runner Preening

He or she (hard to tell the difference) seemed very content to stand still and preen itself while I took its picture, although it did warn me to stay at least six feet away.

Whatever you do today, I hope it’s relaxing and good for your heart … and soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off the Rails

In about a week, this blog will be coming to you from the inside of a train car. Wish me luck, because I’m riding that train for 2,500 miles. That’s three days and three nights of hearing the clickety-clack of train wheels — all the way from Schenectady, New York, where I’ve been visiting family, to Tucson, Arizona, where I live most of the year.

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I’ll be in coach class the entire time, without a shower or a bed.  I’ll bet you’ve always wondered what that would be like. But never fear: I’m going to be blogging about it!

And I’m doing this by choice. That’s right. I’ve lost my mind. Gone off the rails, so to speak. Or maybe I’m just taking the train, no big deal.

I do feel unsettled tonight, though. Maybe that’s because, after flying east from Tucson, I’ve been driving around New York State for almost a month: Tucson to Rochester, Rochester to Albany, Albany to Plattsburgh, and very soon it will be Plattsburgh to Schuylerville, and Schuylerville to Schenectady. Whew. I feel dizzy just typing that.

For the past sixteen years, I’ve been making this cross-country trip annually (by air) and I’m growing tired of the back and forth. Am I getting too old for this? Or just temporarily burned out? Maybe I’ll feel better once I’ve returned home and stayed put for a while.

Perhaps my long train trip will help me sort things out. Hopefully, sitting still while moving at rapid speed for three days and three nights will settle my mind. Hey, did I just invent a new kind of mental health treatment — train therapy?

Do you have any advice for the long-distance train traveler, or questions about train travel that you hope will be answered in my train-umentary? If so, please leave comments below.

A Silly Reminder

I see that the year’s almost finished

my calendar tells me it’s true

and lately my posting’s diminished

I have no excuses for you

 

I blogged every day in November

except for the days I did not

but now, toward the end of December,

I’m finding my blogging skills shot

 

It’s been a long time since I posted

a month, maybe more, I would guess

you probably thought that I’d ghosted

or that my life’s turned out a mess

 

But that isn’t true, I’m just lazy

or maybe I’m just on a break

or possibly I’ve gone quite crazy

or could be I’ve jumped in a lake

 

I don’t believe anyone’s noticed,

I doubt that my presence was missed

it’s not like I’m missing in action

I’m not on the Most Wanted list

 

But nevertheless, I am back now

just saying hello with this verse

to serve as a silly reminder

that I’m here, for better or worse.

 

Happy New Year!

 

 

Thankful for Peppers

Today I’m going to cheat a bit and write about other people’s posts.

By other people, I mean Cheer Peppers, a.k.a. bloggers participating in the daily November blogging challenge known as NanoPoblano. If you want to indulge in some good reading, and if you’re on Facebook, find the Cheer Peppers group and join it.

Or you can find them in the Cheer Peppers list below. (I hope I haven’t left any out. I borrowed this list from fellow Cheer Pepper Carolyn Owens.)

A.R. at StarvingActivist.com
Barbara at teleportingweena.wordpress.com
Bill at BillFriday.com
Breanna at BooksHooksAndYarn.wordpress.com
Carolyn Owens at InfinityCoaching.net
Cyn at Cynk.wordpress.com
David at TooFullToWrite.com
Dean at DeanKealy.design
Echo at trueecho22.wordpress.com
Gwenlynn at JustALittleBitSweet.com
Hasty at FearingCrazy.wordpress.com
Hope at HopesThoughts.blog
Jessie at BehindTheWillows.com
Jesska at NotThrowingStones.today
Julia at AberrantCrochet.com
Julie at JulieBurton.blog
Kay at SuddenlyTheyAllDied.com
Kim at DrunkOnLifeBlog.com
Lillian at HumanInRecovery.wordpress.com
Liz at CatsAndChocolate.com
Lori at LoriStory.wordpress.com
Matt at TheMatticusKingdom.com
Namy at NamySaysSo.com
Nessa at vanessence.wordpress.com
Nutty at SpokenLikeATrueNut.wordpress.com
Owen at NoTalentForCertainty.com
Paula at TheTemenosJournal.com
Ra at Rarasaur.com
Rebecca at MommyQuits.wordpress.com
Renee at ReneeRobbinsWrites.com
Revis at RevisEdgewater.wordpress.com
Robert at FreshOffThePadPoetry.wordpress.com
Sahara at CreoSomnium.org
Symanntha at FailingAtHaiku.wordpress.com
Quixie at QuixiesMindPalace.wordpress.com

In keeping with the energetic but forgiving spirit of the Cheer Peppers, I’ve been trying to keep up with my daily posts (but not beating myself up if I skip days). I’m also trying to read ALL other Cheer Pepper posts. So far I’ve posted 14/21 days but read all posts for only 3/21 days. I’m batting .667 when it comes to posting, but only .143 for reading.

It’s not that I don’t love reading their posts. I do! It’s just that I run out of time during the week. But I’ll get caught up, I promise! I’m pledging today to read a ton of Cheer Pepper posts over this 4-day weekend.

To prove I’m serious about my pledge, here’s what I’m using to keep track of my progress.

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By November 30, I hope to post another photo showing many more check marks in the right hand column.

Cheer Peppers are a thoughtful, funny, kind, and talented bunch, and their work is labor-intensive. Blogging is different from other types of writing, in that blog posts often try to say a lot using a relatively limited number of words.

Good blog posts are attention grabbing, clear, concise, artistic, sometimes amusing, and often deeply personal. It’s difficult to get all of that into a blog post, which is why I’m so thankful I stumbled upon the riches of NanoPoblano. Not only is it good writing practice for me, but it’s introduced me to some amazing people.

Thanks, Cheer Peppers!

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A Lizard’s Tale

Yesterday, I met with my writer’s critique group at a local coffee shop. I was the first to arrive. The second to arrive was a woman I’d never met before. She introduced herself as “Liz” before excusing herself and walking toward the coffee counter.

For some strange reason, I decided I’d remember her name by associating it with a lizard. She in no way resembles a lizard. It was just the first thing that popped into my mind when she said, “Liz.”

Another writer — Elaine — arrived and joined me at our table. While awaiting Liz’s return, I told Elaine that I’d just met Liz, and confessed that I was associating her name (not her!) with a lizard. The weird thing is that a second later I realized that Elaine is another Liz. Her nickname is “Liz Lady” because of the work she does with reptiles.

Liz returned to the table and introduced herself to Elaine.

“I’m Liz,” she said, “but my real name’s Roberta. I go by Liz because of a lizard …”

I was too stunned to listen to the rest of her explanation. I’ll have to ask her more about it next time I see her. But while I was sitting there, in between two lizards, I remembered this photo I’d taken once.

lizard-2

Did you know that lizards sing the blues, and that they also like acronyms? To prove it, here’s a blues song written by my friend in the photograph.

DSL Blues

Oh, I’m a desert spiny lizard, but you can call me DSL
I’m a desert spiny lizard, but you can call me DSL
My life is hot and dusty, all this crawlin’ in the desert is hell.

Well, I’m strong and I’m fast, and my scales are a colorful sight
Yeah, I’m strong and I’m fast, and my scales are a colorful sight (that’s right!)
But when people see me comin’ I always give ’em such a fright.

Well, they scream and they holler, they run away and hide
It makes me feel bad, it hurts my pride
I wish they would stay, but instead they just go
I think they are so wrong, IMHO

Now, you may be wondering what I mean by IMHO
Yeah, I’ll bet you never heard a lizard say IMHO
It means “In My Handsome Opinion,” so there you are, and now you know.

And the acronym LOL was a lizard’s invention, I won’t lie
Uh-huh, the acronym LOL was a lizard’s invention, I won’t lie (or bat an eye)
It stands for Lizards On Lunchbreak, now it’s time for me to go and catch some flies … Bye bye!

— DSL

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Rejection’s Silver Lining

Today was a very special day. I received not one, not two, but THREE rejections in my email inbox. After the initial sensation of having eaten a truckload of sour grapes, I’ve decided to think of these messages as good omens. Things are bound to get better, since they can’t get much worse.

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To be honest, I wasn’t devastated. I’m getting used to rejection, and besides, the submissions were for low-cost online contests that set me back only $7 for all three entries.

Rejections #1 and #2 were kindly worded and encouraging:

“The road to publication takes many turns, and we hope you will continue your journey. We wish you the best of luck with your writing, and hope to see your work again.”

But Rejection #3 was sort of odd. The subject of the email was:

“Contest Finalists!”

After getting my hopes up, I opened the email only to discover that I was NOT one of the lucky 100 finalists. Yes, that’s right, 100. I think they should have come up with a different designation for the chosen ones, other than “Finalists.” Maybe “Semifinalists”?” “Just above average”? Or how about “Most of the Entrants”? Actually, I have no idea how many people entered, but I hope it wasn’t 101.

Being the humble wannabe writer that I am, I decided to check out a few of the lucky entries.

I clicked on a random entry and found that it had been typed in a weird font that was hard to read. Not only that, but the line spacing was such that the lines were smashed together. It wasn’t possible to read it without getting a headache. I clicked on another random entry.

I was met with the same eye-strain inducing font, and the same migraine-triggering line spacing. It must be the website, not the authors, I deduced. I gave a third piece a try and had the identical experience, but this time I noticed things like exceptionally long sentences, a lack of periods between sentences, and even a subject/verb disagreement. In short, the writing had a certain unproofread flair.

I felt a lot better about not being chosen as a “Finalist” for that contest, since it was clear that I hadn’t understood the rules. It was supposed to be a “first draft” contest, I guess.

I brushed off my rejections and turned my attention to my project for the evening, which was to post something for NanoPoblano (my November blog-a-day obsession). I actually had a halfway decent idea for my post tonight. It wasn’t about my rejections. It was about a movie I’d seen yesterday.

I started to type a title for this blog, changed my mind, and deleted it. Immediately, a message from WordPress popped up on my screen :

YOU HAVEN’T WRITTEN ANYTHING YET!

Thanks, WordPress. I needed those words of encouragement, especially today.

Actually, I’m laughing about this whole thing. I’ve developed a thick skin regarding rejection. I know I’m still a novice and have a lot to learn. I still love writing and submitting my work, and I hope I never lose that fire.

So to WordPress, just for tonight, I say this:

YES, I HAVE, AND YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHIN’ YET!

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A Pepper and a Carrot Walked into a Bar

I’m excited today because I’ve only got TWO things on my to-do list. One has to do with a pepper. The other has to do with a carrot.

To Do List

  1. Write a blog post for Day 1 of NanoPoblano 2018
  2. Write the final revision of “Mudslide” for Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Today I’ll be able to check off both items on my list with this ONE blog post! And then I can immediately go back to sleeping adding more things to my to-do list.

About NanoPoblano

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to NanoPoblano (a daily blogging challenge that takes place every year in November), and I’ve decided that the key to a good month-long blog challenge is to write about something the READERS care about. I’m really looking forward to doing that.

So, in the comments below, please leave a word or two about what you’d like to read in my November blog posts. I’ll do my best to work all of your suggestions in.

About Mudslide

Mudslide is a story I’ve been working on for Carrot Ranch Literary Community.  It’s a writing challenge designed to torture inspire, educate, and motivate writers.

The Mudslide challenge began with a 297-word story about a mudslide, which then gets pared down — first to 99 words, then 59, and then an unbelievable 9 words, while experimenting with writing techniques such as changing point of view, analyzing important “nuggets,” and interjecting words of emotion.

If you’re interested, you can read those earlier versions by looking at my previous blog posts. Or, you can just read my final challenge below, a 495-word story about a mudslide, cascading all the way to the end of this page.

MUDSLIDE

I sat bolt upright and stared at the bright red numbers on the alarm clock. They stared back at me accusingly, unblinking. Two-fifteen. What had awoken me?

Slowly, it dawned on me. I’d just had that dream again, the one about the mudslide.

I’d had it four nights in a row, ever since moving in with Jake – the man I’d promised to spend the rest of my life with. I knew I should tell my shrink about the dreams, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear what she’d have to say about them – especially if I told her the whole story.

I looked over at Jake, snoring softly beside me. I touched his shoulder; he didn’t move. What – or who – was he dreaming about, I wondered? But I needed to stop thinking like that. Who was I to be jealous? I lay down and tried falling back to sleep, but I was still haunted by images of the mudslide in my dream.

It was strong – a torrent of devastating mud, carrying everything in its path down with it into an infinite abyss. There was no escape.

What did it mean? Was it some kind of a warning? Did I have to start watching my back – again?

I was lying still, but I felt uncontrollably dizzy. Unable to stop my swirling thoughts, I got out of bed, tiptoed from the room, and pulled my phone from my purse. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to try an internet search of dream interpretation.

I’d just Googled the words “mudslide dream” when Jake startled me, coming up behind me without a sound and kissing my neck. I jumped and dropped the phone.

It started buzzing as soon as it hit the floor. I quickly reached to pick it up, but Jake beat me to it. He stared at it a second and then held it out so I could see the screen. Caller ID said “SLIM DUDE.”

The phone continued to buzz in Jake’s hand. Finally, it stopped.

“Who’s ‘Slim Dude’?” Jake asked, not expecting what I said next.

“My husband,” I said, feeling ashamed.

“You have a … HUSBAND?!” Jake said. He’d started out whispering, but his words were choked at the end.

My mouth went dry and I couldn’t answer. Instead, I saw a vision, flashing like a neon sign in my brain. It was my husband’s nickname, the one he’d gotten in prison, the eight letters in SLIM DUDE tattooed on his fingers.

I knew then that SLIM DUDE would never stop calling me, never stop haunting my dreams. SLIM DUDE wouldn’t rest until he’d found a way to worm his way into my head again, scrambling up my happiness, and converting my life into a MUDSLIDE of despair.

And now the worst had happened. Jake knew the truth. I took one last look at him and said goodbye forever to my happy life, giving in to the power of the mudslide.

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#NaBloPoMo2018
#teamtinypeppers

A Nine-Word Story

What’s the shortest story you’ve ever read?

This week’s challenge at Carrot Ranch Literary Community was a doozy. I needed to shave my shrinking story, Mudslide, down to 9 words! (It’s already gone from 297 to 99 to 59.) Not only that, but I was required to write an emotion into the story.

A 9-word emotional story? “Nein!” I insisted furiously. But since I don’t speak German, I ignored my outrage and took up the challenge, using the following 9-step program:

  1. I told myself I could do it. (Critical step!)
  2. I made a first draft and thought I was done:

SLIMDUDE’s call had turned Rachel’s life into a MUDSLIDE.

  1. I re-read the rules and smacked myself in the forehead. “You forgot!” I scolded myself. “The challenge was to write two stories, and they each need to include an emotion!”
  2. I then wrote this version (emotion shown in brackets):

SLIMDUDE’s call turned Rachel’s life into a disappointing MUDSLIDE. [disappointed]

       I could see now that, by comparison, my first emotionless version was pretty boring.

  1. I rewrote the sentence using a second emotion:

SLIMDUDE’s call pushed Rachel’s life down a disgusting MUDSLIDE. [disgusted]

       I couldn’t stop there.

  1. I changed it again:

SLIMDUDE’s devastating call swept Rachel away in a MUDSLIDE. [devastated]

  1. I tried making it even more emotional:

SLIMDUDE’s haunting call hurled Rachel down an infinite MUDSLIDE. [terrorized]

  1. Then, just for fun, I rearranged the structure and ended up with:

Rachel was shocked by SLIMDUDE’s call. Welcome to MUDSLIDE! [shocked]

  1. I took 9 minutes to reflect on how many different ways there are to write a 9-word story, and how important emotion is in writing.

I wonder if anyone’s ever written a 9-word novel. Just think of the trees that could have been saved by editing War and Peace down to these 9 words:

“War: What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Peace.”

 

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