A Moving Pen Tends to Stay in Motion

I am 41 years old, and I watch Spongebob Squarepants.  I don’t have time to get into my own needs for therapy, though.  This is a post about writing, so I only bring up the subject of Mr. Squarepants because one of my favorite episodes is the one where he has to write an essay for boating school.

Fountain Pen

In the episode, Spongebob gets straight to work on his essay as soon as he gets home from school.  Sitting down at his desk with a pencil and a blank sheet of paper, he hastily bangs out the title (What Not to Do at a Stoplight) and then, “by Spongebob Squarepants.”  After this brief flurry of writing, though, Spongebob’s pencil comes to a halt, and he spends the next three hours staring at the paper without writing anything.

I can definitely relate to Spongebob’s problem.  I have sat down to write many times only to end up staring at my paper or computer screen.  The wheels in my brain spin, but that motion doesn’t lead to any motion of my pen or typing fingers.

There are different reasons why this happens to writers, why our writing times become staring times and the words don’t flow easily, if at all.  In my own life, I’ve found that the cause is often that I haven’t been writing on a regular basis.  So today I’d like to zero in on that particular cause of “writer’s stare.”

Writers need to write regularly, or else the writing gears in our brains get rusty and our pens are paralyzed.  This lack of words flowing leads to discouragement, which often leads to  putting off writing, which lets even more rust accumulate in our brains.  It’s a vicious cycle.

The solution seems obvious, then: just write regularly.  With normal people, this would make sense, but we’re talking about writers here.  Writers are exceptionally skilled at not writing.  In fact, not writing is one of the things writers do best.  When we have time available to write, we are experts at filling that time with anything but writing.  Even things like cleaning the kitchen can suddenly seem very attractive if it means we can get out of writing.  Just ask Spongebob: that’s what he did to avoid working on his essay (along with many other avoidance activities).

I wish there were an easy answer about how to write on a regular basis.  But I have found no way to do it other than just doing it.  The only way I can get myself to spend enough time writing is to set a goal of a certain number of hours to spend writing each week and then accept no excuses for not meeting that goal.  For me, that works, and the consistent writing keeps my brain’s writing gears lubricated and rust-free.

The result is less time spent just staring at my paper, and more time actually moving my pen across it.  Regular writing gives my pen a momentum that it doesn’t have when I only write occasionally.

And momentum in writing is a beautiful ally to have at your side.  When you get into a consistent writing routine, it’s almost like your pen never comes to a complete stop.  It seems to stay in motion ever so slightly in between writing sessions, so that when you grasp it again, it is warmed up and ready to accelerate down the straight college-ruled avenue ahead.

Thank you for reading!  Best of luck to you as you write and as you live.  May you not be a staring Spongebob, but instead may your words flow!

Brent

Resolutions Revisited

December’s end is a time for remembering the year that is almost over.  Everywhere you look, you see articles listing the top events of the year.  Some titles I’ve seen recently include “Top 10 Cat Videos of 2016,” “Top 11 Worst Donald Trump Hair Days of 2016,” and “Top 12 Videos of Cats Wearing Donald Trump Wigs of 2016.”

In addition to looking back on important events like these that occurred in the world around us, most folks also take some time to reflect on the events in their own lives over the course of the year.  And if you are one of the brave souls who made resolutions for the year, it’s time to revisit them.

writing-yellow-shirt

Often the most difficult part of revisiting your new year’s resolutions may be the simple act of remembering what they were.  After all, it’s been a whole year since you made them.  That is definitely the case with me this year.  The last time I gave my resolutions any serious thought was probably the end of January.  Then, as we all do, I got caught up in the hustle and bustle of Groundhog Day, and my resolutions went the way of a hibernating woodchuck.  Fortunately, I wrote them down, or I would be in big trouble and have nothing to revisit!  Hopefully you did better than me and at least thought about your resolutions till St. Patrick’s Day!

So, with our 2016 resolutions before us, let’s revisit.  If you think of resolutions like tests at school, there are two types: ones that are pass/fail, and ones that receive a letter grade.  Let’s say you made a resolution to run a marathon in 2016.  Well, either you ran a marathon at some point during the year, or you didn’t, so that’s a pass/fail resolution (although there may be good reasons why you failed to run a marathon, like a groundhog biting you on the knee at the marathon’s starting line).

For the other type of resolution, let’s say you resolved to be a more patient driver, and not let your blood boil every time someone cuts you off in traffic.  Now, unless you’re Mother Theresa, this type of resolution gets a letter grade, because the rest of us are never patient all the time.  But don’t be too hard on yourself.  The main goal of resolutions is improvement, not perfection.  I bet even Mother Theresa would honk her horn a few times a year if she had to commute to work in Los Angeles.

Perhaps it’s silly to think about giving actual grades to our new year’s resolutions.  But I do believe that if it was worth making the resolutions in the first place, then it’s worth spending some time at the end of the year thinking about how we did.  Measuring growth can be one of the best ways of making sure that growth occurs.

Thank you for reading.  All the best to you as you look back on the year gone by, and look forward to the one just around the bend.  Happy New Year!

Brent

Tailgating the Popemobile

This past weekend I spent some time working on my trusty VW van.  It has an issue with the turn signal.  The right one works fine, but the left signal is pretty spastic.  It either blinks as fast as a strobe light, or not at all.

One solution, of course, would be to stop making left turns.  It would be quite tricky, though, to get where one wants to go by only making right turns.  Even if you do arrive at your destination through a series of right turns, you would be forced to stay there forever, as your journey home would be all left turns.  Better to fix the turn signal.

Doing this repair made me wonder, What if we had turn signals ahead of us on the road of our lives?  What if there was a vehicle we could follow that knew the way our lives should go and would lead us accordingly?

The best vehicle for this job would have to be the Popemobile.  First of all, it’s a sweet ride.  More importantly, however, it’s driven by the Pope, or at least he tells the driver where to go, probably with a cool walkie talkie: “Pope to driver, turn in here at the McDonald’s drive-thru.  I feel like a Big Mac and a Dr. Poper.”

I mean, if our lives were a car on a road, why not follow behind the wisest, most in-touch-with-God guy on the planet?  All you’d need to do is get a walkie talkie with enough batteries to last a lifetime, then learn Latin, and you’d be set to go.

As you traveled your life road, the Pope would give you his wisest advice on all your life decisions.  He would say things like, “We’re turning left ahead so that you can take this particular job,” or “Bear to the right here so you can go to this school and earn your degree,” or “Marry that woman standing by the side of the road.”

What do you think?  If you had the option to be guided to all the right decisions in your life, would you do it?  Or would you put your foot on the accelerator, pass the Popemobile, and say on your walkie talkie, “Thanks, Pope Francis, but I’ll make my own life decisions.  I’ll never know for sure the right way to turn.  I’ll certainly make mistakes.  But right or wrong they’ll be my own free decisions.”

Thank you very much for reading.  I wish you a wonderful trip down the road of life.

Brent

 

5 Writing Resolutions

I’ve never been a big new year’s resolution maker, but I thought I would try it this year, at least in the writing area of my life.  So here goes:

5.  Read more stuff.  Each person’s own unique writing voice is influenced and nurtured by countless little inputs into their lives.  Reading other people’s writing is a key component to developing your own style.

4.  Don’t let ideas get away.  You never know when an idea for something to write about will pop into your brain.  When you least expect it, an idea butterfly may choose to alight upon your gray matter.  Don’t let it escape, or you may never see it again!  Jot it down in a notebook, or make a note or voice memo on your phone.

3.  Network with other writers.  This is a hard one for me, as I have a serious loner streak embedded in my DNA (and I think a lot of writers tend in this direction).  If you are trying to get your work published, though (like me), networking is crucial.  Gone are the days when having a good story is enough to get published.  On top of a good story, you now need to make connections and share your work so that it will end up in the right hands.

2.  Write on a regular basis.  One thing about writing is that it’s one of the most “putoffable” endeavors known to mankind.  When I have free time available for writing, I have this amazing ability to put it off.  I am very gifted at finding any number of other occupations to fill up the free time.  (“I would write except I’ve been meaning to clean out my bellybutton lint.”)  This year, even if it means a navel overflowing with lint, I’m determined to be a more consistent writer.

1.  Keep it fun.  I’ve always told myself that the instant writing stops being fun, I will stop doing it.  That is still the way I feel, but I have to take it with a large grain of salt.  Writing is still work, and no matter how much you enjoy it, work is not always going to be fun.  As long as it is fun in an overall sense, though, I will keep doing it.  With that said, this year I am resolving to bring back the fun in writing as much as possible!  I think this topic could be worth its own post, stay tuned…:)

Thank you for reading, Happy New Year, and best of luck with all your goals for 2016!

Brent

The Gift of 9,000 Hours

First of all, I don’t really mean 9,000 hours exactly.  In the interest of a catchy headline, I did some rounding of the numbers.  I mean the 8,784 hours in 2016 (including 24 bonus leap year hours, yippee!).

Time is a gift given to all living things.  Whether you believe the giver is a higher power, or pure chance, we all must agree that none of us ever does anything to earn our time on this earth.  As wonderful as it would be, there is no job that pays its wages in hours that we can tack onto our lives.

This time gift of ours is very unique in that it is ever-given.  It is a constant stream, like Santa Claus on espresso tirelessly reaching into his big red bag and handing us more parcels of time.

I’ve always thought of a new year in terms of days.  A fresh batch of 365 shiny days.  It’s kind of fun, though, to look at things differently sometimes.  I’m thinking of this year as a fresh batch of 8,784 hours.  Each one is individually wrapped, and with a bow attached.

What is not attached to each hourly gift is a string.  There are no conditions that come with the gift.  We may spend the hour however we please.  We can spend it sleeping, or reading a book, or working, or eating bon bons in bed while watching soap operas (guilty as charged:), and there are no judgments.  Just another shiny wrapped-up hour when the previous one disappears.  So what will you do with all your new time gifts this year?

Happy New Year,
Brent

Report: Still Time for Old Year’s Resolutions

If you’re like me, and you haven’t got around yet to making resolutions for 2015, take heart!  There is still time!

With that being said, however, time is beginning to run a bit short for Old Year’s resolutions.  If you are determined to eat better or exercise more or drink less, you should probably start making good on those resolutions soon before 2015 goes the way of the dodo bird.

There are still several good hours to make those big life improvements for the old year.  We have the rest of tonight (Tuesday) and then all of Wednesday to fulfill our resolutions for 2015.

Thursday is New Year’s Eve, though, so don’t worry about your resolutions then.  It’s a day to celebrate and let yourself live a little.  Give yourself permission to enjoy it.  You will have earned it by living well for a solid 36 hours out of the 8,760 hours in the year.

Best of luck as you change your life for the better in 2015!  Make it a great year!

All the best,
Brent

The Coffin Model, concluded

Happy Halloween, dear readers! Yesterday we learned about Frisky Funeral Home, and the family who owned it. We learned how Fiona Frisky turned the family business around by getting them into coffin sales. We also heard how Fiona’s twin sister Fedora, despite her awful nature, helped the family sell a lot of coffins by lying inside them as a model.

Alas, at the end of yesterday’s tale, I hinted at a tragedy that happened. Now I’m afraid I must tell you about it in full. One dreary fall day, Fiona noticed that a light bulb in the ceiling of the coffin showroom had burned out. She retrieved a stepladder from the back and set it up on the floor of the showroom, very near the coffin where her sister Fedora lay modeling.

Fedora was on her lunch break, but she was so lazy that she almost never left her coffin during her break. Instead, she kept her lunch carefully concealed amidst the frilly silk that lined the coffins. When lunchtime arrived, she closed the lid of her coffin and ate her lunch there in the dark. Often, she put in her earphones during lunch, too, and listened to music.

While Fedora munched on some cheese crackers inside her coffin, Fiona climbed the stepladder to replace the light bulb. From the top of the ladder, she had to stretch awkwardly to get her fingertips on the old bulb. Without realizing it, Fiona shifted her weight as she stretched her arm upwards. This caused the stepladder to tilt and then crash to the floor. Fiona landed on the hard tile floor a split second after the ladder did.

In her coffin with the lid closed and music blaring through her earphones, Fedora didn’t hear her sister fall. Fortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Frisky heard the accident from the office. They rushed out to the coffin showroom and found Fiona lying motionless. Immediately they called for an ambulance.

Then Mr. Frisky yanked open the lid to Fedora’s coffin and told her what had happened. Rather than being sympathetic and concerned about her sweet sister Fiona, Fedora reacted heartlessly. She refused to accompany her family to the hospital. She said she wanted to finish her day of modeling, and that she would lock up at closing time.

Fed up with her attitude, Mr. Frisky slammed Fedora’s coffin lid shut once more, and then turned his attention to Fiona. She was still alive, but unconscious. When the ambulance arrived, it whisked Fiona away to the hospital, and the paramedics allowed Mr. and Mrs. Frisky to ride along in the back.

At the emergency room, doctors discovered that Fiona had sustained serious internal injuries, and they began to operate on her at once. Fiona’s parents sat helplessly in the waiting room. They called friends and family to let them know what had happened.

One of the people Mrs. Frisky called was her brother. His name was Steven Stiffs, and he was in the funeral business, also. He owned Stiffs Mortuary, located in a neighboring town. Mrs. Frisky couldn’t reach her brother, so she left a message for him.

Steven Stiffs didn’t get his sister’s message until a while later, just after he picked up his hearse from getting the tires rotated. His sister’s voicemail had broken up, so all he gathered from the message was that something terrible had happened to Fiona.

Steven immediately drove to Frisky Funeral Home. He found the place empty, except for a body lying in a coffin. Even as a mortician, Mr. Stiffs hated the sight of dead bodies. He looked only very briefly at the body in the coffin, just long enough to see the birthmark on the corpse’s upper lip.

“Poor Fiona,” he whispered, and then he closed the coffin’s lid quietly. Mr. Stiffs had his son with him, a strapping lad as big as two pallbearers. They decided to take care of the body for the Frisky family. After all, no one should have to bury their own family member.

So Stiffs and son loaded the coffin into their hearse and drove over to the town’s only cemetery. Between the two of them, they dug a grave fairly quickly, and then reverently lowered the coffin into it. Then they finished the job by shoveling dirt back into the hole, covering the coffin with a good three feet of soil.

With Fiona buried, they drove sadly back to Stiffs Mortuary. It took them the better part of an hour to get there, and then Steven Stiffs and his son tied up a few loose ends at the mortuary before driving home. When they walked in the front door, Mrs. Stiffs ran to greet her husband and son.

Tears streamed down her face as she asked, “Did you hear about Fiona?”

“Yes, dear, we did,” answered her husband gravely.

“Oh, isn’t it wonderful!” exclaimed Mrs. Stiffs. “I’ve been crying for joy. She’s going to be ok! She came through surgery fine, and she’s just woken up. It’s a miracle!”

Mr. Stiffs and his son gasped and looked at each other in horror.

At that exact moment, Fedora Frisky was screaming at the top of her lungs, even as those same lungs found less and less oxygen to feed her blood. She pounded and scraped at the coffin lid, shaking and sweating. One particular bead of sweat rolled down her cheek and over her upper lip, washing away a cheese cracker crumb that looked just like her sister’s birthmark.

Thank you for reading!
Brent

The Coffin Model

There once were two sisters named Fiona and Fedora Frisky. They were identical twins, and they lived in a small rural town in the Midwest. Their father and mother owned Frisky Funeral Home, which occupied a modest storefront location on Main Street. Even though Frisky Funeral Home had no competition in town, the population of the town was so small that barely enough people died to keep Mr. and Mrs. Frisky in business.

Due to their meager income, the Frisky family had to live a very simple, no-frills existence. Their lives were far from exciting and glamorous, but they always had all the essentials: bread on the table, a roof over their heads, warm clothes on their backs. Although they wished they could do more for their daughters, Mr. and Mrs. Frisky were thankful that they could at least provide these basic necessities.

When Fiona and Fedora finished high school, they had very few options to choose from. Since their parents had been unable to save any money for them to go to college, they stayed in town and got into the family business.

As mentioned, Fiona and Fedora were identical twins. They both had long, curly red hair and bright blue eyes. The only way folks could tell them apart was that Fiona had a little speck of a birthmark on her upper lip. However, if you looked beyond the physical appearance of the twins and examined their character, you immediately found great differences. While Fiona was a sweet and caring individual, Fedora was selfish and mean-spirited.

When the sisters began working alongside their parents at Frisky Funeral Home, business was awful. Nobody in town seemed to be dying. At Fiona’s suggestion, the family business branched out from doing just funerals to selling coffins also. In this way, they were able to increase their business’s income significantly. Funeral homes throughout the region came to them to buy coffins. The Friskys also made occasional coffin sales to random, creepy people.

To display the various models of coffins they had for sale, the Frisky family converted part of their storefront into a coffin showroom. Through this addition, Fedora, who barely did anything all day when she was at work, finally found her calling. She knew a nice easy job when she saw one, so she volunteered right away to model the coffins by lying in them.

In this way, Fedora got to have about the easiest workday you could imagine. Every morning she came into work, picked a coffin to lie in, and then crawled into it. She spent the next eight hours lying on her back with her arms crossed over her chest, posing as a corpse.

With Fedora modeling the coffins, sales went through the roof. It was a hugely successful, brilliant undertaking. In fact, no undertaker could resist buying a coffin when it was so beautifully occupied by Fedora Frisky.

For the first time since its doors first opened, Frisky Funeral Home started making steady, sizeable profits. The quality of life of the members of the Frisky family improved dramatically. They got to eat out at restaurants. They got to go on a vacation. They even got to buy a new hearse to replace the 1980s wood-paneled station wagon that they had been using for years to haul around their dead clients.

In short, Mr. and Mrs. Frisky, along with Fiona and Fedora, finally had a good life. If only it had lasted. For, after only a brief period of this newfound good life, tragedy befell one of the sisters.

I am sure now that you are saying, “Please, let it be Fedora who met tragedy.” I wish very much that I could say that, but that is just not how it happened. For it was Fiona, the fair and the sweet, who fell from her ladder when replacing a light bulb in the coffin showroom.

to be finished on Halloween…

Thank you for reading!
Brent

Ichabutt’s Tail, part 4: New Purpose

Yesterday’s story snippet involved a tragic event. We learned how Ichabutt’s great uncle Ichabob met an untimely demise after a piece of farming equipment fell on top of him. Sometimes, however, misfortune and fortune are intertwined.

Such was the case in this instance, for as fortune frowned upon Ichabob, it smiled upon his great nephew Ichabutt. The day after Ichabob was laid to rest at Sleepy Graves Cemetery, his lawyer paid a visit to Ichabutt’s house. There he informed the young man that his great uncle had left him his farm in his will.

As you can imagine, this unexpected turn of events changed Ichabutt’s life immediately. The death of his great uncle gave him a new life. Ichabutt wasted no time in packing his few belongings and moving out of his parents’ house to Ichabob’s farm.

Finally free from the cruelty and humiliation that his parents had dealt him on a daily basis all his life, Ichabutt flourished. He had been at the rock bottom of his life since dropping out of high school, but now he climbed steadily out of that pit by pouring himself into his new farm.

Ichabutt checked out every book on farming available at the Sleepy Hollow library. He determined to learn all that he could about how to raise crops, so that he would be ready to work his fields as soon as spring arrived. When his eyes glazed over from reading, he would go out and simply walk in his fields, simply marveling that they were his fields.

*this tale in hibernation till next Halloween

Thank you for reading!
-Ichabrent

Ichabutt’s Tail, part 3: The Death of Ichabob

When we paused the story yesterday, Ichabutt’s life was spiraling out of control. He had dropped out of high school and was leading a reckless lifestyle, including stealing more pickled eggs than ever. Just when his life threatened to fall apart, though, fortune turned his way. Alas, in turning toward him, fortune turned against another.

Ichabutt had a great uncle named Ichabob. He was a farmer, as well as an elbowless horseman. One day Ichabob was in his barn working on a piece of farming equipment. His horse stood nearby, munching on some hay. The horse grabbed a mouthful of hay, and in so doing uncovered a mouse, who squeaked in surprise.

The mouse startled Ichabob’s horse so much that she leaped backwards. She knocked over the farming equipment that Ichabob was repairing, and it fell onto his chest, pinning him to the ground with his arms at his sides.

Now, the equipment that fell on Ichabob was not all that heavy. Any average, elbowed adult would have been able to reach up and bench press it off of them. Because of his lack of elbows, though, Ichabob could not escape in such a way.

So he lay there on the barn’s dirt floor for days on end as his life slowly drained away. To add insult to his injury, Ichabob loved Halloween, as most people in Sleepy Hollow did. His most prized Halloween decoration hung in his barn. It was a wind chime made up of a real human skeleton that he had come across while plowing his field one spring.

As Ichabob lay dying, the wind chime hung directly in his line of sight. It was October when this happened, and the chilled autumn air rushed through the open barn door, causing the skeleton to rattle almost constantly.

During his long, agonizing entrapment, Ichabob spent hour after bleak hour staring at the skeleton. Even at night he could see it shaking in the moonlight. Most of all, Ichabob’s gaze fell upon the skeleton’s elbow joints as they creaked back and forth, an ever present reminder of the body parts that could have saved him.

to be continued…

Thank you for reading!
-Ichabrent