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An Argument for Good Grammar

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How many times have you asked your parents a question only to have them respond: "go look it up," "because I said so," or asked them to spell-check a term paper only to have them question why you chose to use an apostrophe in "Bachelor's Degree" and not "Bachelor of Science Degree?" Does the comma go inside or outside of the quotation marks? When do I capitalize a word? When do I use "which" and when do I use "that" in a sentence? Why is any of this important? We moved dozens of times across a dozen states during my childhood, but the most memorable years were spent in Dallas, Texas. My mother was a single parent, working long hours as a secretary for an international freight warehouse. She was proud of her near-perfect typing and shorthand skills; she was especially proud of her writing skills and stressed that if I wanted her to listen to what I had to say, I was to "enunciate" and use good grammar. That commen

Just Keep Writing

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It's late in the day, too late to start a large project, so I thought I might try creating a multi-media collage of some sort with old newspaper, ink, paint...whatever I could find that would capture the  golden and rose-brown shadows of light on the lake out my library window. I sorted through my brushes and papers and acrylics and found everything but inspiration. I wanted old newsprint with bold classified sections and adds with the Marlboro Man selling sin to young women with over teased hair and bold pink plastic earrings. I wanted to paste LOVE on my canvas with a glue stick, smear it with acrylic and scrape the remains of the day with a pallet knife to reveal the masterpiece that my YouTube art instructors claim represents my soul. Sifting through my archives of old correspondence, I found a couple of files containing notes and newspaper articles belonging to Ellen Hunnicutt, winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize in 1987 for her first novel: In the Music Library.  Elle

The 70s

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  Ah...the decade of the 70s. With wide-legged pants, polyester wide collared shirts, and platform shoes, we were certainly the toast of the disco circuit. The 70s were a transitional decade. I graduated from high school, started college, and bought my first car. I also lost two men I loved within a month of one another to tragic events. That same year, my father left his wife, drove back to Texas, and convinced my mother that he'd made a mistake by leaving her 10 years prior, and then swept her away to the San Francisco bay area, leaving me alone in Texas with few resources. He left her again two weeks later. The end of 1976 I married, and by 1979 had two children and had moved three times to three different states, lost a baby, and developed melanoma. Disco music and polyester weren't the worst of the 70s. There were good memories too. Concerts: the Beach Boys, Gordon Lightfoot, the Rolling Stones, the Willie Nelson Picnic, Chicago, Black Sabbath, Eric Clapton, BB King, Kansa

Your Cup

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A couple of years ago, one of my friends invited me to attend a church service where she would be speaking . Although I'm not a member of a church, when I'm invited I'll usually go. I've found that regardless of the denomination, there's a message and if I listen, I'll often find that message is for me. The service wasn't until 11 and so I was blissfully enjoying the morning when I noticed that I'd missed a call from a friend. 7am on a Sunday is early and so I worried that something was wrong--I called her back without listening to the message. She's sad, she's angry, but for the most part she's lonely so I listened. I tried to give her positive affirmation, I tried to be calming and finally, tried to give her another way to look at things. I told her that I loved her. By the end of the call, I was spent.   Walt asked who I'd been talking to--I told him and then replied that I don't think I helped her at all. And that I was drained. H

1960

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On January 8, 1960 I was 6 years and 2 months old. My parents were married, living in Fremont, California and I was in the second semester of the second grade at Chadborne Elementry School.  We belonged to a country club. I had two brothers: Gary (3) and Donnie (1). My dog's name was Horse and I had two dolls that I loved: MaryAnne and Sharon. I had flaming red curly hair, bright blue eyes, and made up songs to sing to Micky Mouse as Horse and I roamed the neighborhood. Our home was happy. In September of 1961 my dad went to work as I roller skated on the sidewalk in front of our house on Porter Street in Freemont. He never came home. My mother was devastated; my brothers and I were lost. I found a picture of my father taken at a bowling alley, all smiles in his team shirt with his right arm swung back in the perfect pose for a strike. I taped the picture to the door frame of my bedroom and cried. In January he remarried, living in Texas with a new wife, a new house, and a 11-year

1950

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Where were you in 1950? I've probably lost most of my readers by now, but for those of you with an AARP card, let's take a trip down memory lane. Maybe we'll do the 60s and 70s in the next couple of posts, but then skip over the 80s: the era of big hair and leg warmers. I was born in 1953 and so don't have a lot to add to this decade, but I recently ran across some files that one of my cousins sent me, one of which was a list of questions to be completed by students from Orrick High School in Orrick, Missouri. My mother's home town. Blogger won't let me attach the file, but I thought I'd take a stab at answering the questions myself. 1. When did your family come to Orrick and from where? How long have you been living in Orrick? I've only been to Orrick a couple of times: once when I was a baby, once when I was about 6, and then in January of 1972 when my grandmother had a stroke. My mother's family started pouring in around 1835 from Kentucky,

Rain

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Often while telling a story about a loved one or topic dear to me, the hairs on my arms will raise with a rush of chills and I know I've touched something special. Something that connects me to that energy I cannot explain that winds through space, time and the places in between. Sometimes I get that rush when I write. Often, I get that rush when it rains, the roar of thunder and wind and rain in the trees giving form to still air reminding me that movement is life. And death. I'm watching it rain outside my library window and can't decide if it's a peaceful calm happy sort of rain or the atmosphere shedding itself of an accumulation of dust particles that have just become too heavy to bear and so it's letting go. Maybe that's the problem: I haven't let go. My great aunt Viola died a month ago yesterday. At 95, I knew her time here was waning, but I miss her stories, her letters, and white-bread sandwiches. My sweet uncle Thurman died this past Saturda

Exercise for the Writer's Brain

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Say we were having coffee this morning and I convinced you to run a marathon with me this year. You haven't run in some time and so know you must train, but you’re a little stiff and really hate exercising in the heat and so decide that all you really need to do is yoga. Specifically, downward dog and a couple of sun salutations. That’s it. You’re going to perform these two poses for 10 minutes a day until race day. Your goal? Well, maybe not finish in first place, but you’ll finish and maybe even get a medal in your age category. Let’s equate this to our writing goals. Goal (because good goals are always measurable): To produce the great American novel in 12 months, to secure a publisher willing to provide a $50K advance and a follow-on book deal. Training : Write 1000 unedited words a day. Does that mean you’re going to open your draft and write until your word count reads 1000? That’s a little like downward dog. Does that mean you’re going to open your draft and

Changing Stripes

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In 1998 off the coast of Sulawesi, Indonesia scientists discovered a species of octopus on the bottom of a muddy river mouth. For the next 2 years, they filmed nine different mimic octopuses  impersonating sea snakes, lionfish, and flatfish—a strategy used to avoid predators, to hunt, and mate.  Last week, two of our friends visited from Cincinnati. Everyone wanted to talk about flying since Walt's a pilot and what's not to love about airplanes. Although I'm a type-rated pilot, my career was as a systems engineer. Not many people engage in social conversation about hubs, switches, and routers and so when I meet someone with a similar background, like my friend from Cincinnati, it's nice to catch up. Somewhere in our conversation, we talked about the difficulty in making friends in a new location--one where you're not bonding through work, tee-ball games, or church. He remarked that since he didn't like people, it wasn't an issue. That gave me pause.

Hometowns

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The drive to Orrick, Missouri from my home takes three hours and twenty minutes without a fuel stop. If I remember to download a podcast, the time flies by. But even without, I start the trip by listening to our local NPR station until the signal is lost at the northbound turn to Carthage and my thoughts turn to family. I love the idea of a home town. My parents left Charleston, South Carolina when I was two months old and rambled until shortly after my eighth birthday, when they divorced and my mother followed my father to Dallas. I've never claimed to be from Dallas or anywhere really because each place I've lived holds a time capsule of my life at a point in time. After twelve years in Arkansas, I'm still not from Arkansas. My career was in Ohio. My friends and some of my happiest memories are in Ohio, yet were I to go home...well, there's no home to return to. My career, friends, children have all moved on. What is it that brings me back to Orrick? The stories