Monthly Archives: August 2015

Planking and Editing: Discipline Through Exercise

Who knew that planking and editing have their similarities?

I didn’t, at least not until I added the former to my exercise regime.   After four babies wreaked havoc on my lower lumbar system, I’m always on the lookout for anything to keep my back muscles strong.  Enter planking, that horrible exercise invented by the devil himself (after he thought up wall sits).  If anyone has been able to do a plank for a full two minutes their very first time, they have my undying respect (as it is, three weeks in, I am up to a minute thirty).  Planking is work, it’s grueling, but it’s definitely effective.   Within just a few days I noticed a sense of overall physical strength and – bonus! – the arms I inherited from my grandma have never looked better.

If planking was invented by the devil, then I’m pretty sure editing was invented by his archangel.  Editing is work, it’s grueling, but it’s definitely effective. The discipline involved is not unlike the focus it takes to keep upright on arms and toes for one hundred twenty seconds. It takes focus.  It takes a will of mind that can only be activated by one’s own choosing.  Think of those beautiful passages, full of poetic prose, close to your writer’s heart because, damn, who have you ever read that compares the sunrise to the opening of a sunflower with color descriptions that would make Robert Frost cry?  During the editing process, its those precious paragraphs that must be excised.  Taken out.  Highlight, ctrl x. They don’t belong no matter how many minutes you spent finding the terms for differing shades of yellow and orange.  This is the kind of discipline editing requires (similar to planking) where focus is paramount for a successful outcome, but it’s absolutely worth the effort.   That lean, streamlined, strong manuscript you submit to your publisher is the reward – not to mention the overall strength you’ll acquire as a writer (bonus!).

Editing is one of those things that we don’t necessarily dream about when first committing to a writing career.  We envision our name on the best seller list or at the bottom of a book cover.  We are excited to get that story out of our heads, give it life, and make it breath for our readers. But few of us realize the discipline involved with the editing process until the first work is done and we begin to cut, paste, and delete. It’s tempting to be generous to ourselves and our cherished prose, but we must enforce strict self-control in order to achieve the strongest possible outcome.

Have a great week kids, write something, and here’s to discipline – on and off the page.

Yours, Frankie


Religious Liberty and the Flying Spaghetti Monster: Mandatory Pasta Wednesday Everyone!

There seems to be some confusion over what religious liberty means.

Religious liberty means that I have the ability to believe whatever I want to believe in the privacy of my own home.   I can buy whatever books support my religion, I can watch whatever TV shows support my religion, and I can go to any place of worship without fear of being arrested, harassed, or any repercussions.  It’s my faith.  Since faith is a private issue and I am a public servant, I can do whatever I want in my home but I am not allowed to impose my faith upon those I work with – or for.  I am guaranteed religious liberty by our constitution and if I invoke the document to protect my private faith practices, then I must absolutely invoke it equally to all citizens of this nation and allow them their private faith practices.  As a public servant, I do not get to choose which clientele to help based upon my beliefs, the constitution guarantees all citizens equal treatment in public circumstances.

Touched_by_His_Noodly_Appendage_566_356_c1

Touched by His Noodly Appendage, featuring the Flying Spaghetti Monster, was originally created in August 2005 by the Swedish designer Niklas Jansson as a parody of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. Courtesy JewishJournal.com

I’m an unofficial member of The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). For reasons I’ll forego here, I’ve chosen this particular faith as my one true religion.   I say the daily Pastafarian Prayer and faithfully eat only pasta for dinner on Wednesday nights as decreed in The Holy Book of Colander, received from His Noodly Appendage and set forth verbatim by Chef La La Foutaise, Chapter 12, verse 3, I think.  I’ve even managed a few times to ‘fast’ according to the Holy Book of Colander, which involves a strict diet of only Manchurin noodles and red wine – breakfast, lunch, and dinner.   According to tradition, Chef La La Foutaise set the standard fast at the typical hero duration of forty days, I managed to last two on the rare occasion I was reaching for spiritual enlightenment. “But fasting is certainly not a requirement in order for His Noodly Appendage to appease one’s requests. Our Breaded Entity doth heareth thy pleadings for more Olive Garden restaurants anyhow.” Chef Foutaise, probably.

Because of the guaranty of the constitution, I can do whatever I damn well please with regards to my relationship to His Noodly Appendage – within the four walls of my home and/or local meeting place of fellow church members, uh, Olive Garden.  What I don’t get to do is insist that everyone else eat pasta on Wednesday nights because I am convinced that my religion is the one true religion and Our Breaded Entity the one true god.   What I don’t get to do is refuse to do my job as a public servant because you refuse my religion in the private realm.   I can’t refuse your marriage license, wedding cake, ability to adopt children, right to buy flowers, or right to live according to your faith simply because pesto and breadsticks do not make up at least thirty percent of your diet (as suggested by His Noodly Appendage for robust health – and for the prevention of zombie attacks).

Religious liberty is a private matter.  When we enter the public sphere where we’ve all accepted the premise of democracy through the exercise of equal rights and equal opportunities, we are bound by the constitution to a certain degree to leave our private matters at home.  With religion this idea must be especially true since beliefs and faiths vary across a wide spectrum. Thanks to the constitution we have the ability and permission to believe whatever we wish to believe within the four walls of our home and cranium.  So have at it.  Have fun!   But when we meet at the coffee shop or bakery or courthouse, I expect us to serve each other to the best of our abilities.  And I won’t hold it against you if you don’t eat pasta on Wednesdays.

Yours with a serious snark…

Frankie


On Water, Wolves, and Wind : Civilized Compromise

Human civilization is often forced to compromise with mother nature, there isn’t much choice in the matter.

I live in northern California where water is a serious issue right now and salmon are exacerbating the problem. Shasta Dam is the cornerstone of the Trinity Dam Project that supplies power and water to much of the region, but it comes at a high price:  dams block centuries old salmon runs in the San Joaquin delta.  As a compromise, the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) has long had water release rights to the Dam during spawning seasons in order to keep the runs viable. In years of severe drought however, releasing sacred water for ‘fish’ doesn’t seem like the brightest idea in the box and there have been some protests over the issue.

The issue of releasing wolves back into the Yellowstone Park environment caused a lot more protests, most from area farmers who were concerned about their livestock.  Wolves were hunted to near extinction early in the twentieth century to protect valuable farm animals. But that also meant that wild grazing animals were protected as well and before the century’s end bison and deer were overpopulated to the point of devastating the park.  Creeks and rivers were unable to form banks because the trees and shrubs required to do so were being eaten or trampled.  As a compromise, wolves were brought back to the Park to hunt grazing animals.  The grazer population returned to a more balanced number which in turn created healthier water banks and greenery.

Healthy air is the motivation behind wind turbines.   In an effort to reduce carbon emissions and take advantage of a morewind sustainable energy source, turbines are proving to be excellent generators of electricity.  But there’s a significant backlash to their presence:  people complain about wind turbines ruining the visual landscape of an area.  I can understand the argument to some degree, but we currently have miles of wire running through older neighborhoods with big wooden poles every hundred feet to keep them elevated so we are quite accustomed to a skyline full of man made objects.  In the long run, wind turbines save our planet and air quality. So even if they do take some enjoyment out of our horizon gazing, implementing wind energy is a compromise we must make as civilized human beings interested in keeping our atmosphere clean.

Each day I am amazed at the way we homo sapiens can manipulate nature and make it work for us. But in our advancement, in our quest to create a high-functioning society we managed to strangle nature at some very serious junctions. We’ve had to learn to give a little along the way as a matter of consequence.  That is as it should be.  We are the conscious party after all, we have a certain accountability to  other living beings on the planet.   So while water gets released during drought years, and the first wolves have recently made their way to California, and wind turbines continue to provide clean energy, we ourselves must make adjustments to our perceptions by understanding that the cost of civilization comes at the price of compromise with mother nature.

Yours,

Frankie


What’s Your Element?

One of my favorite things to do is watch someone in their element, doing what they love most to do.

I had a dog whose element was swimming.  She would swim for up to an hour at a time.  On a few occasions I worried that she’d cross the small lake we frequented, come out on the other side and wonder where I was!  She was happy though, oblivious to the family she left on the shore, and content to paddle along without any direction in mind. I couldn’t help but marvel as I watched her in her element, doing what she obviously enjoyed most.

I have a son whose element is on the gridiron.  Since he was eight, something happened whenever he put on his pads andcamp2 helmet and stepped on the green field. The gentle boy with a wont to please disappeared; replaced by a fierce competitor that took this mother a couple of years to get to know.  He’s a junior in high school this fall, playing starting defense and his passion has only increased.  Over the years I’ve watched him discipline himself to go on early morning runs, hit the gym in the off season and during summer break, and absorb the stories of his heroes on “A Football Life.”  Tonight we kickoff the season with the traditional scrimmage and as I sit in the stands and watch him play, I’ll do so knowing he’s happy to finally be competing, content in the challenge to do his best and lead his team. Completely in his element.

For some of us, writing is our element.  Tucked away from the world in order to create an imaginary world for others, we spend countless moments absorbed in a thesaurus or staring out the window in search of just the right words and phrase.  As grueling and demanding as the process of editing is, we find immense satisfaction in the activity of creating the perfect sentence (I am thankful to live in the computer age. There’s something seductive about highlighting a group of words, capturing them with my mouse, and moving them. Poof!  Magically the sentence I struggled with now reads and flows with elegance.  It’s like Lego’s with words!).  We writers are never happier than when we are agonizing over vocabulary or the structure of our next work, because we are in our element.

But what if you aren’t in your element?  What if you aren’t doing what you love to do and what you are passionate about? Then I challenge you to make a change. Life’s too short kids!

Yours,

Frankie


Digital Noise – A Poem Concerning Life With Social Media

Digital noise hijacks our thoughts.  Leaves little room to consider reality, if we are not careful.

A Facebook feed full of contention.

To reply or not to reply?

That is the question. I do.  I regret.

Back and forth ensues, a day is wasted.

*****

“I came here for the comments!”

Forget the story, I want the schadenfreude.

Then I can ignore my life, yours becomes the target.

Perfect projection of my faults onto your worldwideweb  face.

*****

Twitter feuds rife with subterfuge,

Not even my own but I’ll claim a stake anyway.

Team Swift!  Team Perry!

Turns my thoughts from important things: Children are starving.

*****

Turn it off.  Refuse to click.

I’ll take a literal swipe at negativity.

I will choose to focus on here and now.

Who is sitting next to me?  What can I do to help?

Digital Noise, seductive and caustic.  Leaves little room to consider reality, if we are not careful.


Lost Souls: An Atheist ‘s Sacrifice

Nate heard his girlfriend’s sobs when he entered their apartment and followed them to the spare room where she sat in her favorite wicker chair.

“What’s wrong Ange?” He smoothed her hair out of her face and waited for her to speak.

“Brenda called today.  We got into a bit of an argument.  It ended with her unfriending me on Friendlink and everything.”

“Why did you argue?”  Nate was concerned. Brenda and Angie had been friends since high school and though they lived two states apart, they kept a close relationship.

“Oh, she said she felt led to question me  about my lack of faith.  She kept bringing up that whole ‘I’m being led astray’ idea.   She was nice enough, I knew she was acting out of concern.  I wore the same shoes once, so to speak, so I just let her ramble on about returning to church and repenting.  I didn’t really respond at first because I was hoping I could just change the subject or something.  Finally she asked me if I could see the error of my ways.  I said that in no way could I unlearn what I’ve learned about gods and evolution and the fallibility of the bible.   I brought up the comparison of Helios. I told Angie I can’t make the leap of faith our ancestors did and believe that he drives the sun across the sky anymore.    In the same way I can’t make the leap of faith required to believe in the god of the bible because we know the bible has been contrived and tampered with, plus evolution, plus our habit of inventing gods…”  Angie stopped to wipe her face and gather her thoughts.   Nate waited beside his partner and allowed her to continue at her own pace.  Long moments passed.

“She couldn’t really ‘argue’ with my points and so she went on the defensive and said she’d have to really think and pray about our friendship.   She didn’t know if she could be friends with an atheist, she said.   I reminded her that in the past year of my godlessness I’ve still been loving, I’m still faithful to you, and even I’m involved in the community.  She responded by telling me that none of that matters if I don’t have Jesus in my heart and then she said she had to hang up.   When I checked my Friendlink page later I saw a message from her that she just couldn’t be my friend anymore but if I had a change of heart to please call her and she would welcome me with open arms.   Then she unfriended me.”  Angie let out a heap of sobs after the last statement and Nate, empathizing with her pain, held her close and concentrated on even breaths so she would sense his calm.

He understood her pain.  He’d been ostracized by some of his own family.  The justified anger and hurt took some time to work through. Nate hated to see his beloved endure the same.

After a while Angie sat up and spoke. “I know you’ve been through this with your own family.  Maybe I shouldn’t complain about losing a friend.”

“That’s not the point.  Ending any relationship is painful and requires a mourning process.  Pain is pain no matter what the circumstances.  We’ve talked about it before remember? We’re going to lose friends and family over the gig.  But we support each other in the process and we do get through the grief.”

She allowed his words to soothe the wound in her heart and by degrees the conversation lightened. Soon they were discussing the evening’s basketball game and choosing teams. The loser had dinner and dishes duty tomorrow night.

It was a few months before Angie worked through the pain of losing her friend however.  A twist of timing meant that she had to endure Brenda’s birthday without the traditional phone call and homemade card.  She made the card anyway.  It sat on the kitchen table for a few days before she tucked it deep within her armoire. Nate was brilliant.  He held her when she cried over her lost friend and provided silence when she needed time to think.  She focused on a couple of newer friendships and they did help some to make up for the hole left by Brenda’s exit from her life.

Still, the prodding of her friend’s questions caused her to examine her decision to leave church.   She found herself going through a cycle of thought:  was I right to leave religion?  could I really go back? how?  How can I go back when I see the landscape of evidence before me compared to the narrow view the bible offers?

She couldn’t.   The thought of returning to the four walls of limited thought and knowledge even evoked a sense of claustrophobia in Angie.  If it came down the to choice of acquiescing to religion and keeping friends and family, or living in the reality of what we observe and losing friends and family, she always came out on the side of the latter. Always. After going through the same cycle and coming out on the same side repeatedly, Angie found a deeper strength in her decision. She gained a greater measure of peace.

At their high school reunion three years later, Angie and Brenda managed a cordial but shallow conversation and then moved on to other people.   Angie reflected later that night at the memory of their breakup and looked back to see how far she’d come since then.  She had no regrets.  Like Nate said once, sometimes losing a friend is an atheist’s sacrifice, but we do get through it.


*Author’s note.  This is a complete work of fiction but it was born out of the many testimonies I’ve read in online forums.  I’ve had a bit of fortune myself in that most of my friends are accepting and loving even though I’ve abandon the faith.  A few have distanced themselves but I’ve not experienced the ‘breakup’ that Angie did.   At times familial relationships become strained but love always overcomes and we’ve pretty much all learned to avoid the topic in order to retain our rapport.  Some are not so fortunate and I wish for them strength and grace as they work through their own sacrifices. Yours, Frankie


Inspiration from Competition

One of my sisters planted a seed in my mind and its grown to become a full-fledged entity to deal with:  Why don’t you enter  a writing contest?

I’d never thought of it before.   My focus has been on magazine submissions, building my web presence (many thanks to you readers for tuning in), and working on my latest manuscript. When I began to investigate what opportunities were out there, my competitive drive took over and I find myself happily grooming a couple of works for submission.   I’m enjoying the process and as I prepare to send off my first entry, I would plant the same seed in your mind:  Why not enter your best work in a writing contest?   You’ll be challenged in ways unimaginable but fruitful.  You’ll be inspired in the face of competition.

Here a few contests I am eyeing, but there are hundreds out there.

Manchester Writing Competition – Deadline for entries is September 15, 2015.

The Gift of Freedom (A Room of Her Own Foundation for Women: Artists and Writers) – Deadline for entries is November 2, 2015

2015 RRofihe Trophy ‘no fee’ short story competition – Deadline is October 15, 2015

Best of luck, and here’s to creating some winning work.

Yours, Frankie