Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Book It

In Arvada, Books, Learning, Libraries, writing on May 21, 2018 at 7:20 am

I told a friend I was going to the Arvada Book Festival, “a one day celebration of literary arts,” on Saturday, and she asked if they would be selling books there. Yes, I said and other book-related items. She looked confused and then nodded and said, “bookmarks.”
Indeed they did have bookmarks, one included with the complimentary tote bag. Unfortunately, I don’t use bookmarks, haven’t for years. I use Post-It flags to mark my place or I read on Kindle and it saves my place. They had other things, too, but it was mostly local authors trying to sell their books. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I get my books from the library.
The Jeffco Public Library was there, and I signed up for their summer reading program. You choose your own books and record the number of minutes you read. If the total for everyone reaches 40 million minutes, the library will give $500 to Foothills Animal Shelter, plus readers earn prizes along the way. If I did the math right, that works out to $1 for every 1,333 hours of reading, so we won’t be doing it for the money. Still, that’s more than I normally earn for reading, which as we all know, is its own reward.
I didn’t stay for the afternoon workshops or panel discussions because, frankly, I’ve had my fill of those kinds of things.
Everybody kept asking me if I was a writer, and I never know how to answer that question. Yes, because writing is the way I make sense of the world, but no, because I’m not interested in publishing, which is what they were really talking about. I was briefly interested in a local group of mystery writers (Sisters in Crime) until they told me their quarterly meetings are a whole day long. No, thank you. (See workshops above).
I was also happy to learn that Arvada has an Arts and Cultural Commission. I voted for making Arvada the most art-friendly city in the area.
I’m glad I went, but let’s face it, my favorite way to celebrate the literary arts is to stay home and read.


Ebb and Flow

In creativity, Learning, Walking, writing on April 30, 2018 at 6:52 am





I didn’t write last week. Maybe you noticed.
It wasn’t that I was too busy with other fascinating projects. In fact, I did very little besides read and walk and putter around the house. Someone, either Lucille Ball or Benjamin Franklin, said, “if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.” This week demonstrated to me that the opposite is also true: leisure expands to fit the time available.
I have been listening to Julia Cameron’s Walking in the World and reading How to Say Everything by Tom Hart and The Creative Sandbox by Melissa Dimwiddie. These all contain advice on how to jump-start creativity. Although conventional wisdom says I should write every day even if I write crap, and usually I agree with that, last week my well seemed to run dry.
A popular strategy for refilling the well is to walk. Writers and other creative types recommend both mental and physical wandering around to find inspiration. I did that more this week than I have for years, and I have the callouses to prove it. Luckily, my friend Sheila gave me some Burt’s Bees foot crème and pink Himalayan salt to soak my feet. These combined with taking a day off have worked a small miracle, so I should be able to hit the pavement again today.
Another tool from Julia Cameron that I have neglected is a weekly artist’s date—a solo one-hour visit to a gallery or museum or art supply store, anywhere to explore something interesting. I’ll be doing that this week. Feel free to suggest someplace fun for me to visit.
Meanwhile, I’ll be writing again. Rest assured that some of it will be crap, but I take comfort in Melissa Dimwiddie’s idea that we need crap to fertilize the good stuff.

Paper or Plastic?

In creativity, Learning, writing on February 12, 2018 at 4:53 pm

No, I’m not talking about grocery bags, but while we’re on the subject, I take my own so I don’t use either paper or plastic. I’m really talking here about paper vs. digital.
“You keep a paper calendar?” asked an incredulous friend who (mistakenly) thinks I do everything digitally. Yes, well. I keep both a paper and a digital calendar. I tried to switch to digital years ago when I was at a meeting and everybody else there whipped out their phones to note the time for the next meeting. Not wanting to appear dinosaur-ish, I left my paper calendar in my purse and instead committed the date to memory.
I also keep my to-do lists and shopping lists on paper. The tiny letters and numbers on my phone make it hard for me to input my lists and also difficult to read without my reading glasses. When I think of something that I need to add to a list when I don’t have a pen and paper, I use the memory trick again. I like to think of this as exercising my memory muscle. It seems to be working because people have described me as having a “scary memory.”
My daily journal is also on paper. Yes, it takes longer to write my thoughts by hand, but that means I need to slow them down a little and give myself more time to think things through.
I spend enough time staring at a screen, whether it’s my laptop, iPad, Fire tablet, Kindle, or phone. Using pen and paper feels more personal and creative.
Maybe the biggest advantage to writing by hand is that a notebook provides a distraction-free environment. When I’m using a computer, chances are I will run across a word I’m not sure of, so I can open a browser window and look it up. That may remind me of an article I read on the topics and I go searching for that, which leads me to a book and then a podcast interview with the author. And so on down the rabbit hole. I can also stop to check my email or Facebook whenever I get stuck.
Several research studies have indicated that handwriting stimulates our memory, but on listening to the fascinating Freakonomics podcast, “Who Needs Handwriting,” I learned that many of those studies were funded by big corporations that manufacture pens and pencils. Just what we need—a cursive conspiracy.
So I’ll continue killing a few trees a year and periodically wading through excess piles of paper that seem to multiply magically on my desk and work table as I try to bridge the widening gap between old school and new school. Speaking of school, I understand some schools now offer courses in cursive in the Art Department. Still haven’t been able to wrap my mind around that.

Creating Again and Again

In creativity, Learning, work, writing on February 7, 2018 at 4:50 pm

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” He was talking about people (cough politicians cough) who think they must maintain the same ideas and opinions day after day and year after year even when circumstances change.
Nevertheless, I like to think of myself as consistent in my habits. I rarely miss going to church or to the gym or writing these blog posts. In fourteen or so months of writing 5-7 days a week depending on the season, I’ve only missed two days plus the week I took off when I had an out-of-town visitor. I like to think I’m following Flaubert’s advice to “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” Violent and original words may only appear now and again, but if I didn’t write consistently, they may never appear at all.
Almost all successful writers say the key to their success is writing every day, if only because they get better with practice. That’s true of any creative endeavor.
In her popular TED talk, writer Elizabeth Gilbert said you must be at your writing desk every day so the muse knows where to find you.
Recently I ran across another piece of advice from Icelandic singer-songwriter Bjork. The only thing I know about Bjork is that she once wore that weird swan dress to the Academy Awards, which was, I admit, creative although not necessarily in a good way. Anyway, I like her idea that you need to create an even flow. “Don’t hold your breath for five or seven years and not release anything, and then you’ve just got clogged up with way too much stuff.” It’s “more important to sustain that flow than to wait until things are perfect.”
Even though I know that most of my musings are less than gems, and I frequently think of a better way to say something or something better to say after I’ve already put it out there, I continue to write and post and hope that every once in a while my words will resonate with you.
In deference to Mr. Emerson, however, I must admit that I may change my mind about this tomorrow.

Giving Up Lent

In Church, Learning, writing on January 29, 2018 at 5:46 pm

I just realized that Lent starts in a couple of weeks. Yikes! Time flies.
Last year, after writing Advent posts through the twelve days of Christmas, I laid off my blog for a while and discovered that I missed the discipline of writing it. So I decided to do the same thing for Lent.
Unfortunately, I discovered that there are not nearly as many secular writings about Easter as about Christmas. I went with the theme of change instead. As Easter approached, I heard from friends asking me to please not stop my daily posts. I continued writing about 300 words Monday through Friday for the past year missing only a few days.
“What’s your blog about?” people ask. Whatever pops into my mind is the only answer I have. No theme other than trying to learn what I think about some topic every day. Writers from Stephen King to Joan Didion and, yes, to me say “I write to find out what I think.”
According to the United Methodist Church, “Lent is a time of repentance, fasting, and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection.” It lasts for forty days (plus Sundays) to represent “the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.”
I haven’t yet heard what our theme for Lent will be this year, although I will probably visit it during the season, just not every day. My life has changed since last year. I have more on my mind and more on my agenda. That’s probably not a good excuse for choosing not to focus at least once every day for those forty days on the sacrifices of Jesus, but it’s all I’ve got.
If it isn’t good enough, well, maybe I’ll do better next year. I’ll have to give it some thought. You know what that means. I’ll have to write about it. You’ll see.

Time on My Hands

In creativity, Learning, work, writing on January 24, 2018 at 2:12 pm

“It takes half your life before you discover life is a do-it-yourself project,” said Napoleon Hill. My life is project-based learning, and I need a new project. As many of you know I had a very hard time adjusting to retirement when it came along five years ago. I was bored out of my mind and spent way too much time feeling sorry for myself.
It took a couple of years before I felt entirely comfortable with my life and found things to do to fill my time. I tried art journaling until a friend asked me what the journal pages were for and I had to admit they weren’t for anything, just a way to use some of my creative energy to pass the time. Then I started writing a cozy mystery and researching how to write fiction kept me quite busy for a while. Writing my church’s history for the last 25 years captured my attention last year, but now that’s finished and I’m wondering what’s next.
One friend of mine knits hats for the homeless and another crochets scarves. In previous lives, I have both knitted and crocheted, but having a cat makes that exponentially more difficult. I thought about volunteering at the Cat Care Society because I’m already covered in cat hair, so why not? The thought of giving up some of my free-flowing time for a work-like commitment no longer appeals to me.
What to do?
My friend Sheila wants me to get back to writing the novel. I’m already writing these daily posts, and while that’s totally different from writing fiction, it does scratch the writing itch. As the author, Zadie Smith said, “To speak personally, the very reason I write is so that I might not sleepwalk through my entire life.”
Maybe I’m ready for something really different, even outside my comfort zone, but what would that be?
Note: it needs to be something that doesn’t accumulate more clutter in my house, so no crafts. I’m open for suggestions.

Cursive, Foiled Again

In Learning, Learning Tools, writing on January 23, 2018 at 6:42 am

I remember grade school classrooms decorated with pages of letters using the Palmer method of penmanship. We had to practice using our whole arm to make the endless swoops and loops of what we then called simply writing, as opposed to printing. Today we hear an endless debate about whether or not schools should teach cursive.
The basic argument in favor of it seems to be that we learned it so, by God, kids these days should learn it, too. Those opposed say it’s a skill that’s lost its relevance.
Someone pointed out that to those who don’t learn cursive, our writing and that of previous generations will be unreadable to them, an impenetrable, if old-fashioned, code. Faster than printing, it is nevertheless slower than typing, at least for those who know how to type (an argument for another day).
Some research suggests that the physical act of writing in cursive leads to increased comprehension. It also develops motor skills and activates a different part of the brain than printing.
What about your signature? Maybe in these days of electronic signatures and iris recognition technologies, signing documents no longer involves putting pen to paper.
Educators argue that teaching cursive takes time away from teaching essential skills, such as keyboarding and programming. The use of our phones for everything may even eliminate the need to learn keyboarding.
Admittedly a throwback, I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t write something if only a journal entry or to do list. If nobody knows cursive, who’s going to curate those boxes of my journals going back several decades? Something to think about.
I come down on the side of those in favor of cursive if only because I don’t want to see us lose another basic human skill. We’ve already lost so much as we move into our increasingly technology-dependent future. How, for example, would we write love letters in the sand using only the phone?
It’s a thrill these days to receive an actual letter in the mail. Ask anybody. Seeing someone’s words in their personal handwriting means more than the words alone, especially when the penmanship is glorious and gorgeous and a bit difficult to read. That just means spending more time with trying to decipher it. Spending more time with a friend is always worthwhile.

The Day the Alphabet Died

In Books, creativity, writing on January 4, 2018 at 4:56 pm

Sue Grafton, author of the alphabet mystery series and creator of PI Kinsey Millhone, was my favorite author. Her passing last week stunned the publishing and reading world and left us bereft for the loss of both writer and character.

She started the series with A is for Alibi in 1982 while fantasizing about ways to murder her ex-husband. Y is for Yesterday came out in August last year and is, for my money, her best yet. I and her other fans had dreaded for years the coming of Z, the final book in the series. She had said there would be no more after that. She wouldn’t start on a second alphabet or switch to some other titling strategy. Friends frequently asked me what she would do after that, and I explained that she’d be almost 80, although she looked much younger in her pictures, so maybe she would retire. Nobody really believed that. Writers never retire.

My initial reaction to learning that she had died of a rare form of cancer was to mourn the loss of her stories. I suppose that’s natural since I never met her and had an endless, loving acquaintance with her books. Her family stated that she had not yet started Z, and there would be no ghostwriter. The alphabet would end at Y.

I wonder. Fans have extended the life of Jane Austen and Sherlock Holmes by offering new fiction featuring those characters. Why not Kinsey? Maybe some bright soul will bring her into the 21st century and let a sixtysomething Kinsey use computers and cell phones and the Internet to solve a whole new spate of mysteries. I’d buy that. She’d make a terrific old lady.

I need a new button, something along the lines of “Kinsey Lives.”

The Dreaded Christmas Letter

In Christmas, writing on December 13, 2017 at 11:58 am

My Secular Advent, Day Eleven

In this era of social media where daily we can share what we’re going, thinking, eating–whatever–the annual Christmas Letter may seem like an idea whose time has passed. We don’t need an annual missive to catch people up on our family’s accomplishments when we communicate with them every day.

Still, some of us persist, and yes I’m among them.

Most of these holiday missives sound like everyone lives in Lake Woebegone “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” I read them nodding and saying to myself, “Yeah yeah yeah. Your family is better than mine. I get it.”

“This classic letter from Martha Stewart to Erma Bombeck illustrates the typical tone:

“This perfectly delightful note is being sent on paper I made myself to tell you what I have been up to. Since it snowed last night, I got up early and made a sled with old barn wood and a glue gun. I hand painted it in gold leaf, got out my loom and made a blanket in peaches and mauves.”

Okay, maybe Martha was being the tiniest bit self-deprecating.

Using humor is one way to make your letter more interesting. Google Christmas letter and you’ll find dozens of articles with tips on how to write yours. There’s probably even a class you can take. If that seems like too much trouble, just hire a company to print and mail your letter using their online templates. Or hire someone to write the letter as well.

That doesn’t exactly reflect the personal touch, but those are the times we live in. A professional can decorate your house, cook your Christmas meal, buy and wrap your gifts. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of a service that will attend the Christmas Eve candlelight service at church if you just don’t have time.

That’s the spirit.

Waiting for Christmas

In Church, writing on November 27, 2017 at 9:13 am

Last year, I had the idea to create my own secular Advent calendar by choosing short stories, essays, poems, children’s books, and prayers, some well-known and others I, at least, had never heard of and basing my posts on those readings. It was so much fun reading these pieces and spending time thinking about the meaning of Christmas that I did a similar project for lent and then continued to write about a wide-ranging selection of topics.

My objective was to simplify Christmas and focus on what’s really important without all the frantic activity and also without being pious. I’m doing that again this year.

Advent is the four Sundays before Christmas and a time of expectant waiting and preparation for Christ’s arrival. Last year, with Christmas falling on Sunday, Advent was four weeks long. This year, Christmas is on Monday, so the four Sundays of advent make only three weeks. (I know that’s confusing, but just look at a calendar and you’ll see how it works.) At my church the pastor thought having the final Sunday of Advent at the same time as all our traditional Christmas Eve services would be too much, so we started Advent yesterday, a week early. For this series of posts, I’m sticking to the official dates, December 3-24.

I’ve collected quite a few options for my advent writings, but if you have a favorite, let me know and I’ll try to work it in.