Dragons I Adore

As part of a writing assignment, I describe one of my favorite hobbies.  I love to collect interesting and unique dragons.  Dr. Wedin, our writing instructor, asked each of us to do a short piece on any hobbies that we had.  The following is my contribution to this assignment for our writing club.  I have included a few of my dragons. 

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I collect dragons.  Dragons are popular in many world cultures.  Three countries have dragons on their national flags.  Many more places such as Moscow also have dragons on their flags.  In China, the color of a dragon is symbolic.  Red, yellow, green, black, purple, white or gold, they all have different meanings.  A purple dragon represents love and romance.  A gold dragon symbolizes wealth and prosperity.  A white dragon is an omen of death.  There are nine types of Chinese dragons.  Some fly, some live underground, some have horns, and some are spiritual.  Dragons in China are generally benevolent or helpful to people.

In Western culture, dragons are usually depicted as evil.  We are all familiar with Saint George and the dragon and of course the famous Smaug in Tolkien’s story, the “Lord of the Rings.”  Throughout medieval history, one of a knight’s principle roles was to rescue women from dragons.  Why dragons loved to steal women is a good question since I have never heard of a dragon that ate a woman?

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While most people regard dragons as mythical creatures, some people believe that dragons once really lived.  There is some evidence of this in the Bible.  The Book of Job, chapter 41 — seems to describe a dragon in great detail:

“I will not fail to speak of Leviathan’s limbs, its strength and its graceful form. Who can strip off its outer coat? Who can penetrate its double coat of armor? Who dares open the doors of its mouth, ringed about with fearsome teeth? Its back has rows of shields tightly sealed together; each is so close to the next that no air can pass between. They are joined fast to one another; they cling together and cannot be parted. Its snorting throws out flashes of light; its eyes are like the rays of dawn. Flames stream from its mouth; sparks of fire shoot out. Smoke pours from its nostrils as from a boiling pot over burning reeds. Its breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from its mouth” (NIV).

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In Indonesia, you can still find a live dragon known as the Komodo dragon.  It does not fly or breath fire, but you would not want one as a pet.  The Komodo dragon is actually a species of lizard, but who knows, maybe the Komodo dragon is a descendant of some long dead dragon that once roamed the world with dinosaurs.

I am fascinated by the variety of dragons.  Some are cute and cuddly.  Some are mean and ferocious.  Some are noble and dignified.  Some are evil and malignant.  You can find a dragon to represent just about any value or virtue that is important to you.

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My dragons keep me company and help reflect my different moods.  I have dragon paintings, dragon sculptures, dragon paper weights and a computer dragon which watches over me while I am writing or engaged in some internet search.  At night, my dragons keep the evil spirits of the world from entering my house.  They are my guardians and my friends.

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When I pass from this world, I hope my wife will bury my dragons with me.  I will need to take them to the next world to begin a new adventure with them there.

Time for Questions: 

Do you collect anything?  Why or why not? If so, what do you collect?  Why did you choose these to collect?  What is the most fun for you in terms of collecting?

Life is just beginning.

You can’t take it with you, so who will you give it to?

The Best Writing Club in the USA!

author-at-work-1170x716Big News!  They are going to make a movie about a writer’s club.  They made the movie “The Book Club” staring a host of elderly semi-retired actresses and now they want to make a movie about a writer’s club.  I am volunteering our club.  It is the best writing club in the USA with so many talented writers.

“Poppycock” you say!  “There are hundreds of writing clubs across this country and there are more talented writers than there are spaces on the Times Best Seller list. What makes your writing club the best?”

“Thank you for asking.”

Well for one, our club has the greatest teacher in the entire world.  She is a retired Professor Emeritus (Whatever that means) and you would never (even if you looked high and low) find a better writing teacher.  I will say more about our instructor later and why she is so great.

Now you may not know too much about a writing club or then again, you may think you know a lot.  Perhaps you think you know why someone would join a writing club.  If you are a non-writer, the usual reasons that come to mind are:  Fame, fortune and the power to influence thinking.  These are certainly lofty goals and one that anyone might be forgiven for believing worth pursuing.  They are not our reasons though.  We meet for two hours every week during the best weeks of the year in the mid-west to share our stories and to listen to the stories of others. Our goals are not so egotistical or grandiose as fame and fortune.

What makes a great writing club besides a great instructor?  You could define a writing club by its demographics.  Ours is primarily comprised of elderly retired folks of mixed German and Nordic backgrounds.  Women outnumber men in our club by a three to one ratio.  We are middle class people with about fifty percent of us having a college education.

A more interesting way to define a club is by its type of writers.  I believe we are unique in this area.  Why are we unique?  The answer is simple.  Most of us are too old to give a damn about fame and fortune.  We will probably not live long enough to enjoy any new-found wealth or fame anyway.   Our average age is probably close to 75.

There are three types of writers in our club.  We have nostalgia writers, fiction writers and persuasive writers.  I put myself in the last category.

Nostalgia writers in our club often write stories about memories and friends and relatives that are long gone.  It might be stories about growing up on the farm.  It might be stories about life in the St. Croix valley.  It might be stories about the old school days when there were one room school houses.

Nostalgia writers love to share their bygone days with younger relatives and other people.  The times and days they write about might not interest too many people, but there is little worry about that.  A writer writes for themselves often more than other people.  The accuracy of their memories might also be tainted with the passage of time but often these memories are so funny and colorful that no one in our club really cares about how accurate they are.  Maybe the story happened in 1957 or maybe it was 1947, it really does not make any difference to those of us listening.

The fiction writers in our club delight in telling involved and esoteric stories about themes that came out of their fantasies or some whimsical vision they had.  However, our fiction writers are no starry-eyed idealists.  They are under no illusions that they will make the best sellers list with their stories.  They are also not motivated by fame and fortune.  We have tales of frogs, sheep, goats, aliens and humans who have adventures that you could only dream about.

In the six or so years, that I have belonged to the club, I have heard many fabulous stories of people, animals and events that were totally imaginary.  Sometimes, Carolyn our instructor will give us an assignment like writing about a cow in Norway that prompts our creative powers.  The results are stories written not for the best seller list but to exercise our brains and to employ our imaginations.  Most of these stories will never find their way into publication (excepting our fabulous local paper which weekly features the writings of various club members).  We do not get paid for getting published, but we are more than happy to share our stories with a wider audience.  There may be a Hemingway or J. K Rowling in our club, but no one puts on airs or has pretensions of grandeur.  We leave it up to the Gods to decide who will become immortal.

writing pen

I should tell you about the final group of writers but first, before I forget (It happens quite frequently with age) I want to tell you about Professor Carolyn Wedin, our writing instructor.

Now the typical idea of an English teacher sends shivers down most anyone’s spine who has ever been in school.  Grammar, punctuation, spelling and syntax are enough to make the hardiest soul give up the idea of becoming a writer.  But even worse are critiques such as: “That is shoddy writing, that is the poorest piece of writing I have ever seen or where did you steal those ideas from.”  Destructive comments such as these happen often enough in school to make any normal person hate English and writing.

Carolyn has the unbelievable ability to encourage all of us to keep writing.  She makes each of us think that we are wonderful writers.  She motivates us to be better writers with gentle ideas and suggestions rather than harsh criticism or comparing our work to others.  She seldom ever worries about syntax, grammar, spelling and punctuation.  I have often sat and listened to what I thought was a horrible piece of writing only to hear Carolyn provide ideas for improvement and say little or nothing that would smack of condemnation or disapproval.  I marvel at her patience and endurance and compassion. In the end, Dr. Wedin is teaching us not only to be better writers but also to be better people.  Judge not others less ye be judged yourself.

So now we come to the final and last category of writers in our club.  It is the category I put myself in.  These are the writers who write to persuade others.  The people who think that something they say can make a difference in the world.  We want to change the hearts and minds of people.

Speaking for myself, I write social and political satire with the goal of helping other people to better see and understand the foibles that our culture often pursues.  You may think this is a narcissistic goal or perhaps a naive goal and maybe it is.  One thing is certain.  It will never garner me fame or fortune.   But (you should know by now) that is not why we write.

As any writer will tell you (Paraphrasing the great French National Anthem):

Writers! Form your battalions!

Write On! Write On! Write On!  Write_On_logo

Time for Questions: 

Do you write?  Why not?  Have you ever tried writing?  Would you like to be a famous published writer?  It all starts with your first sentence.

Life is just beginning.

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”  — Madeleine L’Engle

Perspiration or Inspiration: Which is more Important to the Writer?

100writing3Inspiration or perspiration, perspiration or inspiration, which is more important?  Is inspiration the mother of writing while perspiration is the father?  Some weeks, I am going to write a blog on a subject that I have been thinking about for many years when suddenly out of the blue, I get some crazy thought and I feel impelled to write my blog about this sudden flash of insight.  These insights might come from something I heard from someone, some bit of news, or just an impulse to write about something.  Inspiration has provided the content for about 1/3rd of my blogs.  For the other 2/3rds of my blogs, the ideas come from perspiration. I sit, sweat, read and do research on the subject.  (Here is a song to listen to as you read my blog this week:  Jeremy Secrest – HELP! I’m Writing A Book! Theme Song)

Perspiration quoteSome writers will tell you that writing is hard work and that perspiration is THE key element of the writing craft.  They will tell you how they get up every morning and sit down in front of the keyboard and start to write. It will not matter what they write as long as they write. They may grind out one or ten pages each day this week. They discipline themselves to do this day after day, week after week and year after year.  If you think about it, this will produce a prodigious amount of work.  Think 3 pages a day for 365 days and you have put out about 3 novels.  Think doing this for ten years and you have put out about 30 novels.  With good writing and a bit of luck, you just might find one of these pieces of works makes the NY Times Best Seller Lists or the Amazon Top Ten or perhaps the Oprah Book List.  Once you have broken through with your writing, you have simply to reap the benefits of recognition and acclaim.  Many writers simply become “one hit wonders” while others capitalize on a “formula” to keep churning out hit after hit.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  ― Ernest Hemingway

stephen-king-books-collectionStephen King tells the story of how and why he wrote the Bachman books.  After achieving much fame and fortune with his suspense novels, he decided to see if he could start over again and achieve popularity and success under a new name.  He published three or four books under a pseudonym as Richard Bachman.  The books (Which I enjoyed very much) were nowhere near as popular as his King novels but before he could finish his experiment, he was outed.  The books were then re-released as “The Bachman Books” by Steven King and of course, their sales skyrocketed.  Perhaps with time, King would have been able to duplicate his former success, perhaps not. I have read many works by many authors which I think should have become best sellers but did not.  Hard work and perspiration for an author does not simply transfer into major book sales.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”  ― Stephen King

passion-is-your-inspiration_380x280_widthInspiration will sometimes take a writer where mere perspiration fears to tread.  In my weekly writers group, I sense that many of the authors rely a great deal on inspiration for their themes.  The idea of perspiration is anathema to some wordsmiths. Why “force” yourself to write if it is not fun or if you do not feel really excited about the idea.  According to this school of thought, writing should be a pleasure.  You do not subscribe to a weekly time frame of when to write or a quantity to write. You simply write when you feel moved by the spirit or impelled to write by the muse of writing.  Writing like this flows more naturally because it seems to come from somewhere other than the brain.  Perspiration writing is driven by intellect and discipline but inspiration writing is driven by the heart and by the soul.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”  ― Maya AngelouI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

One of the most famous examples of inspiration writing must surely be Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  It was written on the back of an envelope while he was on a train going to the recent battlefield to give a testimonial to the men and women who fought and died there.  Two hundred and seventy some odd words depending on which of the four versions you read (Computers and exact copies for things were not as prevalent in 1863 as they are now) and it has become one of the most famous and well known pieces of writing in the history of humanity.  You never get tired of hearing this speech or reading it because it truly reflects the soul and spirit of this great human being.  Full of repetition and redundancy, it nevertheless achieves a magnificence that can only be attributed to the power of inspiration.  No Madison Avenue ads men or White House speech reporters had a hand in the words that Lincoln spoke that day.  We tremble in horror at the very idea.

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”   ― Robert Frost

There is an entire school of inspiration writing.  Go ahead and Google the theme and you will find over 387 thousand hits on the subject. There are numerous books, programs, quotes, articles, courses and even software that will teach you how to be an “inspiration” writer.  Paradoxically, the Father of writing is much less popular. When I type in Google “perspiration writing” I am only able to find 1,090 hits on the topic.  Apparently sweating is a lot less popular as a writing motive than inspiration.

“If genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, then as a culture we tend to lionize the one percent.”  ― Susan Cain,

When I wrote my blogs on Immigration, I read over a dozen books on the subject before I started to write. I read pro-immigration books, anti-immigration books, history of immigration books and some textbooks on immigration law.  The result of this research was a three part series on Immigration.  I am very proud of this work.  I put a lot of time and effort into the writing in the hope that it would reflect an intelligent and actionable manuscript.  I wanted to produce a piece of writing that might help people who were thinking about this subject and wondered what we should do about it.  I even created a t-shirt that read:  “Necesitamos una política migratoria justa.  No es una política anti-inmigración.”  Translated, it means “We need a fair immigration policy. Not an anti-immigration policy.”  I wanted to express an opinion that would be understood by much of the Latino population in Arizona where I live in the winter.   (See my blog titled: My Take on Immigration – Part 1 of 3 Parts)

quit piddling and writeThere are those who would say that writing must be comprised of both inspiration and perspiration.  Writing they say is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration.  Such formulas are more easily quoted than done.  Many the author who has had a brilliant idea and then waited years for another spark of brilliance.  The great science fiction writer Ray Bradbury wrote at least 27 novels and more than 600 short stories and yet is primarily remembered for one novel:  Fahrenheit 451.  It is rare indeed for many scribes to be remembered for even one.  There is a large degree of serendipity that goes into any popularity that does not seem to be captured by effort alone.  Think of all the books that were written on the O. J. Simpson Trial.  There were over 7 thousand books dealing with various aspects of this case.  How many of them can you name or remember?  One might argue that most if not all of these tomes were written based on the sordid idea of making money.  Whether any of them were guided by pure inspiration is a question that probably cannot be answered.  Nevertheless, there is little evidence that even adding inspiration will make a successful book.  The Goddess of Success seems to be very fickle when it comes to writing.

“The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That – with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word ‘success’ – is our national disease.”  ― William James

esq-ernest-hemingway-082411-lgYou and I may never be a Hemingway or a Faulkner or a Stein or even a “best seller.”  What really matters is that we share our joys and fears with the world and bring passion and conviction to our effort.  If we can do this, then the question of inspiration or perspiration will fade away like Mc Arthur’s “Old Soldiers.”

Time for Questions:

Have you ever wanted to write something?  When will you start?  Did you write today?  Why not?  What is holding you back?

Life is just beginning.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
― 
Toni Morrison

 

ON WRITING, MUSIC, CHOREOGRAPHY, THE SEASONS AND LOVE

Allegro

What does writing have to do with making love? Can the changing of the seasons really be compared to an overture? What if on some primal level, we all live by an unseen rhythmic law? This law says that there is fundamentally no difference between making love and writing or between a brilliant piece of choreography and the changing seasons. Does the rhythm of the universe expect a form of symmetry to all of life? A regulated succession of strong and weak elements or of opposite and contrasting conditions becomes the master of all we do. The seasons come and go. The music ebbs and flows. Our love is gentle, passionate, sublime and tired. Mornings, afternoons, evenings and nights fuse with the spring and summer and fall and winter of our lives. The harsh gales of November echo in the overtures of Stravinsky and Beethoven. All things are one say the mystics. Is my writing one with all things? Can I form, norm, storm and perform even with mere words. 
 
Adagio

Far be it for me to confuse philosophy with art. Greater men than I have said that there is a unity to life. We travel down our different paths often blind to the journeys of others who walk side by side with us: This one a carpenter, this one a computer scientist, this one a teacher, this one an artist and this one a hero. If I were a rich man, lord who made the lion and the lamb, would it really spoil your cosmic plan if I were a wealthy man? We are all dust in the wind but our rhythms echo down the halls of time. The most unforgettable and amazing repetitions will resonate as long as humans walk the earth. Coded in the numerous ways we have of capturing the rhythm of our lives: Some dynamic, some peaceful, some violent and some sad. We write our lyrics, pen our verses, create our stanzas and design our choreography all guided by the unseen law of rhythm. Now we are hard, then we are soft. Now we roar and now we snore.

Scherzo

Love is kind, love is considerate, love is not selfish. The waltz was a creation of times when love was more restrained. This torrent of mine was supplanted,
extending my being, your challenge. The Tango alternates patterns of space and closeness with syncopated rhythms of violence and passion. Love me tender, love me sweet, never let me go. Rock and Roll ushered in a wild abandonment of morality in the face of conspicuous sexuality. The rhythm of music often exhibits striking harmonies with the rhythm of our love lives. Can I be soft and gentle like a warm breeze but also wild and unrestrained like in the movies? What if I made love to the William Tell overture or would Shakira’s lyrics work better:

Baby I would climb the Andes solely 
To count the freckles on your body 
Never could imagine there were only
Too many ways to love somebody

Is it enough to alternate patterns of tenderness with patterns of inhibition? Shall I open with an allegro, then move into an adagio, followed by a scherzo and conclude with a rondo? Who would expect love to end without a crescendo? Should my love making follow the classical style or should it be more like a jazz piece?

Rondo

Whether goes my writing. I have written this in four parts to reflect my cosmic view of the rhythm of life. We form and norm and storm and then perform. Spring is the opening that brings fresh growth to our world before the bloom of summer. Summer brings the maturity and ripeness of life. Fall brings the storms and winds that signify our frailty and insignificance to the universe. Winter ends our symphony with the closure and solace that our work is done and our day is over. Our life, our work, our art, our thoughts all finished but with a hope to be reborn perhaps by someone who sees a need to continue the rhythms that we have started. Not really finality, but continuations that started before us, and will continue long after our memorials are put up. Perhaps, my headstone will have four verses or stanzas or paragraphs or perhaps like the newest greeting cards, you will be able to press a button on my tombstone and you will see a picture of me singing and dancing to a four part harmony.

 
Time For Questions:  
Does music teach you anything about writing?  Does music speak to you? Can writing be like a symphony?  How do you hear music?  Does it speak to you like a good poem or a good verse? What is your favorite kind of writing?  Do you ever think that the writing you enjoy could be like music?  What would it take to transform the music in your life into writing or the writing in your life into music?  
 
Life is just beginning

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