All Out Of Ink

October 20, 2011

Broken Butterflies (or, When Words Don’t Matter)

Filed under: Pieces of Life — Alayne @ 10:39 pm

Butterflies have always symbolized hope to me. They are like little pieces of comfort, assurance of peace, reminders that God has His hand on us. The butterfly on my front lawn last Monday was different. My parents stopped by to visit, and afterward, I walked them out to the driveway. I was standing barefoot on the warm pavement laughing about something when I noticed a butterfly fluttering in the grass.

As my parents drove away, I sat down in the grass beside the butterfly. Flapping desperately, it couldn’t fly. One wing was missing.

Beauty and grace, hope and assurance, frightened and caught. Broken.

I cupped my hands and nudged the butterfly into them. I picked it up. I thought to put it by the rose bush, not sure why, maybe beauty with beauty, but that was not a good place for the butterfly. He was even more frantic in my hands than in the grass, so I set him back down. I just stayed a while, quietly knowing there was nothing anything or anyone could do. It was worse than seeing something dead because there was pain with no hope. Lifeless calm would have been better.

The butterfly didn’t know I was there. It was alone, I realized, even with me. I couldn’t comfort it. I don’t speak butterfly.

In the end, I left the butterfly in the grass, struggling in fear, because I couldn’t bear to sit beside it any longer. I went inside, feeling as if I had betrayed something priceless, something divine and innocent, and I wept bitterly.

Beauty and hope should never die struggling and alone. And our hearts should break if ever they do.

This hasn’t got a thing to do with writing, except that maybe I’ll write about it someday. (This doesn’t count.) Or maybe I won’t. Some things never settle in the mind well enough to wrap words around them.

May 20, 2011

“This Ain’t No Dress Rehearsal” (or, Make the Words Count)

Filed under: Inspiration,Pieces of Life — Alayne @ 12:58 am

“How are you today?” I asked the man as I began scanning his groceries.
“Fine thanks, and you?” he responded.
“I’m doing alright,” I said.
“Good,” he said. “Because this is your life. It ain’t no dress rehearsal.”

I was in a drama group that summer. I spent a lot of time practicing and performing a long play, so I was quite familiar with rehearsals. We did plenty of them. There was about an 8-week window during which I worked at a grocery store as a cashier. I interacted with lots of people. I don’t remember most of them now. In fact, I don’t remember a whole lot about that summer at all. It has become a bit faded in my memory, along with a few other large chunks of my high school years when I was getting very little sleep. (Yes, lack of sleep affects long-term memory too.) Out of all the people whose money I handled and whose food I touched, I remember that man. He only bought a couple of items. He was there less time than most. Those were the only words I remember exchanging, though I probably responded agreeably and wished him a pleasant day. Yet, it was that man who voiced the wisdom I needed most.

I can’t talk like that. I can’t use “ain’t” and “no” one right after the other without sounding like I’m making fun of someone. I kind of wish I could. “This is not a dress rehearsal” just doesn’t have the same effect. It sounds more like a teacher giving a book-learned lecture than a man who’d lived life and come by the wisdom honestly.

While I can’t talk like that, I want to write like that. I want to write words that carry wisdom and meaning far beyond the capacity of the letters and spaces. I want to join experience with expression so one can carry the other. There’s an authenticity I crave in my work that doesn’t come from being a writer. It comes from being a person, living life, seeing others do the same. I desire to impart knowledge as that man did in the checkout line at Winn-Dixie some random summer afternoon to a girl he’d never seen before and would never see again.

Did that man know he was saying something I’d remember 15 years later? I doubt it. I wish I could tell him. Then again, it’s probably best I can’t. I’d have to also admit I didn’t listen until a long time later when I finally realized I’d made far too many “safe” mistakes. Now, though, I know there’s no waiting to see how it turns out so I can make better choices next time. I really do only get one shot at this.

I need to take the chances that create the wisdom that makes me different.
I need to take the time to write the words that mean the most.
I need to live the life that’s worth the space those words take up.

“This ain’t no dress rehearsal.”

I need to make it count.

June 10, 2012

How Do You Journal?

Filed under: Inspiration,Writer's Block — Alayne @ 12:03 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

One of my favorite writing activities is keeping or creating journals. I have traditionally kept my daily journals and random poetry in black and white marble composition notebooks. Not to brag (okay, in order to brag), but I have filled more than 30 of these books.

There are other journals I keep also. Here is one of them. It’s a journal I keep almost daily. It takes less than 5 minutes before bed at night to write down the date and a few things from the day that are only good. I don’t mean I write down things that can turn into good later down the road. I mean completely good things, things that make me smile. Hidden blessings are great, but I save those for another time, place, and page. This is for things that cannot be mistaken for anything but good.

There are always things I can list. At the very least, I can write down “My comfy bed,”

Here is a sample page from this journal. It is the most recent spread.

Try it! It might spark another project, or it might be what you need all on its own.

February 28, 2012

iLove (or, Riding the Tide of a Trend)

I’ve always been practical, never trendy. I’ve always carefully researched what I wanted and usually decided on products or ways of doing things that were a little less traditional or a little less popular. But I’ve gotten what I wanted out of my decisions most of the time, so I’ve been fine with that.

This time, no. All this changed over a small electronic device.

The first time I got a good look at an iPad was when my sister got one for her birthday. At the time, I wondered what the point was. It was a… computer? without a keyboard. Or was it an mp3 player that was way too big for my pocket? Or was it a giant phone that you couldn’t get a phone number on? Someone said it was a touch-screen e-reader you could use to get online.  I couldn’t figure what good it was if I had all the other stuff that did what I needed.

Then, the more  I thought about the iPad, the more I discovered I wanted to think about it. It was so… pretty. And the way things moved around at the touch of a finger! I have never owned an iAnything, or perhaps my amazement would have been less pronounced. I learned what apps were, and how many different kinds were out there; for every necessary function, there were several to choose from. I found myself drawn to the iPad advertisements online. I started thinking about how nice it would be to own one. I thought they must make keyboards for them.

One day, as I was preparing to head to the coffee shop for some studying and writing, I realized how heavy my giant laptop was and how much more use I would get out of my study tools if it was small enough to take with me.  The times I took it with me, I had to carry two bags. When I left it at home, I inevitably wanted something that was stored on it. This would all be so much simpler, I realized, if I had an iPad.

Of course, other brands had less expensive answers to the iPad.  Some had compatibility with common components that the iPad didn’t boast. Those were appealing… for about three seconds. What I wanted, I came to realize, was more than an iPad. It was a trendy toy that made me look like everybody else. I visited the Apple website. I clicked and stared and smiled.

Where is the writing lesson here? Well, I’ll tell you.  When you are always true to yourself, always practical, and always careful to be specific about your intentions and actions, you will find yourself consistent and your writing honest. But if every now and then, you fall in love with a trend or a market, or you are tempted to toss your true and practical self aside in favor of following what’s in style… Go for it! You just might end up as happy with your decision as I am right now as I click away on this Bluetooth keyboard and watch the words appear on the screen of my beautiful new best friend. My iPad.

September 4, 2011

Reflections of Myself (or, Staying Inspired)

Filed under: Inspiration,Pieces of Life,Writer's Block — Alayne @ 12:34 am

Lately, when I manage to blog or journal about writing, I spend most of my time exploring the idea of maintaining my inspiration or further defining autonomy in the course of life as I live it. Day after day, I pursue good things for my family. I arrange our lives so they compliment and cooperate with one another. Logistics of a household, wellbeing of each family member… these and similar pursuits consume most of my time and concentration.

Tonight, I read a wonderful blog by Tim Floyd on his blog Life Aperture about eyes, and I began thinking about one morning about four years ago when I looked in the mirror.

Life events had carried me far away from what I’d grown up believing I would one day become. I knew I was missing essential parts of myself, and I was sad they were gone. But one day, something happened when I walked by a mirror. I was a visitor in the home, so it wasn’t a mirror I was accustomed to using. Was that the reason it looked unusual? Was it the transition of my life what allowed me to see something different? Whatever it was, the result was stunning.

I was in the middle of a phone call, discussing my uncertain plans for the future, and the image took my breath away. My friend’s voice faded into the background, asking if I was still there, but my mind had shifted from the conversation to what was before me.

My fingers touched my face. “I have my mother’s cheekbones,” I nearly whispered. “And my father’s eyes in a different shade.” I turned, noticing the profile of my nose, the shape of my ears, the contour of my lips. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought of my appearance. For that moment, I found myself beautiful. You could say my eyes were opened to something that had been right in front of my face (or more accurately, right on my face) but that I hadn’t seen in a long time.

The night of my eighth grade graduation, I looked at myself that way, searching my own eyes and looking at the precursor to what the grown-up me would look like. And now, with the grown-up me in the mirror, I could say to that child, “You’ll be proud of the person you will become.”

Through your eyes, your body swallows everything around you, takes it in and turns it upsidedown. Your thoughts arrange themselves in and around it, turn it another direction, and it changes you from the inside. You come to contain something you didn’t previously possess. Now, it’s something you can offer. You take your pen and that’s exactly what you do. You offer it.

You offer it in verse. You offer it in memoir. You offer in in fiction. You offer it in a journal or a letter. Let your eyes swallow something today. Let them see something they’ve never seen before in the common sights of your normal day. Let them swallow something new in the midst of all that doesn’t change. Look at the pattern of your dishes as a stranger would, someone who has never seen them before. Notice the glare of the sun through the windshield and how you squint in the light, see the way the color of the road changes with that light on it. Or in a moment when you happen to be near a mirror, brushing your teeth, combing your hair, setting something on the dresser, look at your own eyes. Swallow a bit of yourself as if you were not you. Let the beauty in. When you turn away, you will contain a small part of yourself that wasn’t yours before. Now you can offer it.

August 11, 2011

Poof! I’m Published (or, The Thing I Am Not)

Filed under: Inspiration,Publication — Alayne @ 12:02 am

What if I woke up one day and was suddenly a published writer? I don’t mean the kind of “published” I currently am, with a few by-lines and lots of stuff waiting in the wings for the right opportunity. I mean impressively, undeniably, financially, reputationally (is that a word?) published. I mean published like people know who I am. Published like my book is on its third print run. Published like I legitimately wrote something good enough to be in the right place at the right time and hit the right person as memorable.

What if I was like that in a *poof*?

I’ve done enough writing to warrant that. I have every confidence I’m that good. I’ve worked really hard at this. There’s no doubt in my mind that I deserve it by now. I hate the thought that I could spend my whole life being an amazing writer, getting only rejections because there’s such a plethora of good work for the big-time publishers to choose from.

If I did wake up one morning to that reality, I think I’d be disappointed. Sure, I’d be thrilled and excited. I’d head straight to IHOP for breakfast to celebrate. I’d be ready to open up a REAL savings account at the bank. I’d sign copies of my book for all the friends and relatives who have believed in me and supported me in my writing efforts all these years.

But I think a little part of me would be kinda sad.

I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I’d have missed some portion of the journey. Maybe it’s because I’d want the satisfaction of each little step of that trip to the top of the list.

I think, though, it’s because I’d miss the struggle. I’m a writer. I’m a creative mind. I’m a moody little so-and-so sometimes who remains who I am by battling against the things that keep me from reaching my full potential. What if I lost that? Would I still have as much to say? Would I still look for (and find) the beauty in the pain of every day? Would suffering be as poignant and meaningful? I hope my soul would remain as open, but I’m not sure.

That is the uncertainty that fuels hesitation, just as my longing for that reality fuels my pursuit of publication. The inner conflict of a writer is just as important as plot conflict in a piece of writing. Writing isn’t just about the end result of publication. It isn’t even just about the end result of the writing itself. Its importance is rooted in the end result of sustaining a writer’s soul. Only that openness of soul can sustain the existence of an artist.

The soul is the thing. The rest is just business.

I’m in it for the art.

July 20, 2011

Review: Downy’s Newest Laundry Product

Filed under: Product Reviews — Alayne @ 9:19 pm

One sunny afternoon, I checked my mail and found an oddly-shaped box. It contained an unexpected fun thing. Downy’s new laundry product Unstopables in-wash scent booster.

I opened the container and said to Chris, “This is exactly how I want my laundry to smell.”

He rolled his eyes.

“I’m serious!” I said. “I can’t wait to try it.”

I have nasty well-drilled-too-shallow tap water that smells horrible. In order to combat that, I had just treated my well a few days before. I was excited to try something that might help with both smells.

The carton was very appealing and the little dissolving beads are fun.

The first load of laundry I put it in was just about perfect. I used just a sprinkling of the beads. It didn’t smell like much when I put the wet laundry in the dryer, but the clothes came out lightly scented and have stayed fresh in the 3 weeks since.

The second load I ran, I filled the little cup up to the first line. While I did run a full load, it turned out heavy and too strong, almost mildewy. Through a bit of trial and error, I figured out how much product to use in the various sizes of laundry loads I run. I’m enjoying it now, and am quite pleased with how long one container is lasting when I use just the sprinkling necessary for the best results. Clothing does remain freshly scented even weeks later after being stored in the dresser or closet. It does what it claims to do. I wish it was a fabric softener though. I don’t typically use softener in the wash, but if I did, I’d be adding three products to each load (softener, detergent, and unstopables). That seems like a lot, especially if the softener had its own scent.

All in all, it is a product worth trying out if you like the particular scent. It is a very nice clean-laundry sort of smell. Just make sure you don’t use too much; it’s easy to overdo the sprinkles. They’re fun.

———————-

I’ve been sampling for Vocalpoint for a couple of years now, and I love receiving the products and giving them a try. There is another fun product review offer coming up if you want to participate. You can register here to check it out. No cost or obligation, just a chance to help out with new products, and anyone can sign up.

May 15, 2011

Make a Note of It

Filed under: Inspiration,Writing Tips — Alayne @ 10:37 pm

Even for a diligent writer, sometimes writing takes a backseat to the necessary living of life. With kids, that’s even more true. Big things, small things, and nearly-invisible things gang up on you. Well-meaning (or sometimes know-it-all) folks will tell you to take things one at a time. These people may come from any of the following scenarios: 1. They do not have children, 2. They have forgotten what children are like, or 3. They have been living in a land of makebelieve long enough to think they can create reality by saying things out loud enough times. (The third situation can be caused by re-reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” too many times in a row, so be careful; you could be next.)

There are nooks and crannies writing can fit into. This is not to be confused with cracks it might fall between. Those are larger and easier to find. No, nooks and crannies are the minutes in between things. It would be nice if you could collect these in a jar like loose change, then count them out and use them all at once. But you can’t. Instead, stick notebooks where these precious seconds tend to happen. In the glove box of the car for while you’re waiting in the pick-up line at the kids’ school. In the spice cabinet for while you’re cooking. In your lunchbox or locker for breaks if you go to an outside job. This sometimes works better than trying to carry one notebook everywhere.

Instead of collecting moments and using them all at once, collect pages. When you put the page from today with the page from yesterday and the three pages from last week, it starts to resemble something. You can make pages from many things. A plot line. A bit of dialog. A character sketch. A random line or stanza for a possible poem. A striking turn of phrase. Don’t limit yourself to your own thoughts. If you’re in the grocery store and overhear a stranger say something uncommonly wise or particularly stupid, make a note. That could be useful too.

One of my favorites is from a doctor’s office. A man waiting for his appointment was talking to the lady who had brought him. She was associated with an assistance program for his transportation. It made me sad when I realized she wasn’t paying any attention at all to what he was saying. I paid attention.

“I was miserable and I should have gotten out long before I did,” he said. “I had every right to. But there were those good moments and I wouldn’t have missed them for the world.”

At this point, the best way to conclude this entry would be to say writing is like that and draw a nice comparison. I can’t. I don’t think it has anything to do with writing. Writing isn’t something you should ever get out of, in my opinion.

The statement stuck with me because it meant something else. Three years have passed, and I’m still finding new ways to understand the wisdom in it. I know it’s partly about this one vehicle I owned. I think it’s probably about some of the friends I’ve had. So far, it speaks most directly about all the places I’ve lived, especially the ones I hated.

I wrote his words on a fresh page in the notebook I had with me. I wanted to remember them. Someday, I am going to use them at the end of something special. Until then, I will keep making pages in the moments between things. When writing takes a backseat to the living of life, I will refuse to feel guilty about it. Instead, I will enjoy the living. In fact, I will enjoy it twice because it is what I plan to write about.

May 10, 2011

The Benefits of a Creative Affair

Filed under: Writer's Block — Alayne @ 12:46 pm

As a lover of words, I have tried to be faithful. I have made a sincere effort. Time after time though, I find myself growing weary of the same old rut and longing for more. The grass is always greener, they say, but what if you’re sick of grass and you just want to sit down with a knife and fork and tear into a steak dinner?

Enter: The Creative Affair

To be clear, I am 200% against unfaithfulness, adultery, and polygamy, especially the marriage kind. But when it comes to my writing, well, that’s a different sort of union. When we quarrel, I need to turn elsewhere for comfort.

Writing is not the only thing I will ever need to love, just as I am not the only person the writing demon (or angel, or spirit of any variety) must possess. Reading is only half a step away from writing because I’m still entertaining that spirit.  I need something more.

I’m not talking about a one-night-stand-up comedy routine at a hotel ballroom. And Disney World is fun, but it’s just a summer fling. I need another solid relationship I can be sure of. I need something that’s going to be there consistently. I need an art on the side.

Remember the days when writing was all you needed? When you never got bored with it because the ideas were fresh and new and had room in your mind and soul to breathe? If you think you remember that, you can forget it. Writing was never the only thing you needed. And if you still think it was, realize that just as your child has necessitated adjustments in every other relationship in your life, your relationship with words must also grow and change. Don’t worry though. Just as room appeared in your heart for that little person, your creativity will expand as necessary for this too.

So what’s it going to be?

I enjoy photography. Some benefits are that it gets me out of my same-old-same-old environment and lets me go places, like the lake or the park, where Em can have fun too. On outings where your kid has to be the primary focus, you can still be on the lookout for creative opportunities to snap a shot or two, especially candids of the little one. To make this easier, I often opt for my smaller point-and-shoot over my DSLR because it interferes less with life between pictures, making the outing more fun and less frustrating (and involves less financial risk).

BC (Before Child), I enjoyed singing, playing the guitar, and occasionally picking up Chris’ violin. It’s hard to fit guitar time into my daily schedule without Em wanting to play too. And my violin playing would probably make her cry. But what I can do is put music on in the house during the day while I’m doing other things. Em enjoys it, so sometimes we’ll dance and sing along. It doesn’t matter if I can carry a tune or if I know all the words; she doesn’t care.

If you don’t always feel artistic but enjoy making something pretty, get yourself a book of mandalas and share the kiddo’s colored pencils for some fun-time you can both enjoy. It sounds silly, but my bet is you’ll find yourself coloring one when the kid’s not around. Mandalas are great for meditation and look so beautiful when they’re finished.

Maybe you like to keep a flower bed or vegetable garden looking nice. Maybe you enjoy cooking or baking. Drawing is a fairly portable fun thing. So is needlework if you’re of a meticulous mind. Glass etching is a fun naptime or evening project. Painting might be a bit too involved for the narrower time slots in your day, but if you can carve out the time periodically, it’s a great art form. There’s also woodworking, fixing up an old car, mowing the lawn.

The possibilities are not necessarily endless (after all, you still have someone pulling on your pantleg the whole time you’re stirring the cake batter), but there are enough that you can find something you enjoy and that will fit your lifestyle.

Once you’ve gotten the writing frustration out of your system, you can pull the project back into your life again. After all, no matter what else you are (butcher, baker, candlestick maker, whatever else), you’re a writer.

For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as you both shall live.

PS – Have a look at my page Fun Favorite Links for more on where to get mandala books. I’ll be adding more info on glass etching, photography, and some other things over time.

May 9, 2011

Finding the Time (or, Writing in Spite of Exhaustion)

Filed under: Inspiration,Writer's Block — Alayne @ 6:19 pm

I hate to disappoint you, but I cannot tell you how this is done. Many helpful blogs, parenting websites, self-help books, magazines, and childless great-aunts exist to help you learn how to do it with a dramatic energy second only to Bon Jovi at Jazz Fest. (This is on my mind because Bon Jovi was as Jazz Fest last weekend 30 miles from my house and I couldn’t go.)

If I was presumptuous enough to think I could tell everyone how to find time for writing, you would be within your rights to dismiss everything else I had to say as hogwash. But what I have to say is not hogwash, and to prove it, I am not going to be presumptuous like that. My goal is to help us all push past the special brand of writer’s block that develops along with our children.

Right now, exhaustion has me a little stuck. My brain can’t seem to find its way into the land of the living. Only my body moves. I’m typing, not because I have something helpful to say, but because I’m supposed to be blogging. Just like I change diapers because I’m supposed to be doing it. Or washing dishes. Or chasing the toddler who’s chasing the cat that’s not supposed to be inside. I’m here because I’m supposed to be.

Yet, words have begun to happen.

When I get stuck, one thing I do is think of someone I admire. Today, I thought of John Keats. He wrote a vast number of pieces considering he died when he was 25. His words have echoed my own thoughts many times.

Keats once wrote about how he felt the first time he saw the Elgin Marbles. His amazement caused me to learn what the Elgin Marbles were, and I also found them — and their history — amazing. (For more on the Elgin Marbles, here is a site that gives pictures, history, and the poem itself: Learn More)

Historical art forms may not serve as inspiration for you, but something does. I don’t mean inspiration like the “ah-ha” moment that comes before an idea for a 3-part novel (Lord of the Rings) or an epic (The Iliad). I mean inspiration that gives you the ability to like an idea enough to write a sentence about it. Just one sentence. Everything ever written started with a word or group of words that conveyed either a piece of life, or a reaction to a piece of life. If your mind is too tired to create a piece of life, then react to someone else’s.

Let me say that again. If you just can’t create something new and special, if you don’t have anything in yourself to share, then let your mind react to something someone else has already created.

Your reactions serve as the basis for everything you will eventually create because your observations change you. When you are different, your creations will be different. Your response to another idea is important. Don’t hesitate to record it.

It can be as complex and remarkable as “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles.” It can be as simple as a sentence stating why you like or don’t like a quote someone posted on facebook. And then, over time, it might develop into something more. If not, that’s fine. You have created something.

I don’t know about you, but that’s what makes me feel like a writer who’s not all out of ink.

(One note of apology: This works primarily for creative writing. Academic and research writing don’t always benefit from this exercise, though it can be a good way to get enthusiasm rolling if your subject doesn’t immediately intrigue you.)

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