Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Women of Wednesday - On Flappers

These are Flappers

This is you if there had been no Flappers.

Flappers are generally known as the girls who just wanted to have fun, and that may be absolutely true. Still, I think they deserve some credit for the advancement of women.

Flappers were girls who came of age during the 1920's. They were girls born at the beginning of the twentieth century, right smack dab in that hard final push for the birth of the nineteenth amendment giving women the right to vote. They grew up in a world of suffragettes, of seeing women fight for what they wanted. They may have had aunts, sisters or mothers marching in the streets. They may have read about suffragettes being tortured in jail. Or they may have heard nothing about suffragettes at all except for what godless, scandalous, barbaric trouble-making women they were. But they heard about them. They knew they were out there. And even if they only absorbed a suffragette’s creed by osmosis, they knew the times were changing. They knew it was no longer their grandmothers’ world. They knew they could have what they wanted. All they had to do was take it.

By 1920, when the nineteenth amendment passed, many of them would have been teenagers, the perfect age for rebellion. And what did the passing of the nineteenth amendment say to them? We can vote now, just like the men. We’re just as good men. We don’t have to be the women are grandmothers were, or even the women our mothers are. And they weren’t.

They shucked off convention and social mores and, in a mere four or five years, they got women out of corsets and into the workplace. They made it acceptable for women to go out without a chaperone, to have their own apartments, to drive cars and even airplanes. They got women out of God-only-knows how many layers of clothing and into light and sleek and comfortable dresses that didn’t drag on the ground accumulating dust and dirt. They not only showed off their ankles, they showed off their knees. Such a scandal back then.

And they danced. In public. And not those old stodgy waltzes their grandparents danced to. They did the Charleston, shaking and shimmying and showing off their stuff. They made it acceptable for women to drink and smoke and wear make-up, and while we know better now, smoking and drinking were steps forward in the ‘20's. Flappers didn’t care what the older generation thought. They didn’t care what men thought. They did what they wanted because it was fun, and all those “Good women never . . . .” rules came tumbling down. It was that easy.

And that’s probably why they don’t get any credit. It was easy and it was fun. And they didn’t have an agenda. Still, I think we can learn some lessons from those self-indulgent girls of the ‘20's.

Don’t waste your time worrying about what other people think.
Be who you are.
And most importantly, just do it.

Freedom belongs to those unafraid to grasp it.

For some interesting historical articles on Flappers
For a look at the Flappers Dictionary

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mentor Monday - Internal and External Plots

We all know that without plot, there is no story. Plot is the map that takes you from beginning to end and everywhere in between. It’s what drives the story forward. It’s what took Bilbo Baggins there and back again, and what drove the Starship Enterprise to boldly go where no man had gone before. And if all you’re looking for is a fun adventure, then external plot is enough. But, if you want your story to have any depth, if you want to give meaning to your little adventure, you also need an internal plot.

What’s the difference?

An external plot is tangible and straightforward. Jack plays guitar in the school band. He wants to buy a guitar of his own. He finds a job, saves his money, has a few setbacks here and there, and finally buys his guitar. You can see and touch the guitar. You can see every success and failure Jack has along the way, and you can see him getting closer and closer to reaching his goal. And with each step he takes, the plot moves forward a bit.

An internal plot is not tangible and is generally complicated. It’s all about feelings and emotions, ethics and morals. It’s about Jack figuring out who he is, and what his place is in the world. Jack wants to win his father’s love. But what is love? If I show you a guitar, we can both agree it’s a guitar. But love? We all have our own definitions and our own ways of showing it.

So Jack brings Dad breakfast in bed. Dad grumbles about crumbs on the sheets. Jack sits down and talks to Dad about the baseball game on tv. Dad tell him to be quiet so he can hear. This could go on and on forever because Dad already loves Jack, he just doesn't know how to show it. Since Jack doesn't know this, and Dad doesn't know how to change, there is no movement in the plot. The situation will remain the same until Jack has his light bulb moment and realizes Dad always loved him but just didn’t know how to show it, and that will happen at the end of the story, so there's no progression toward the ultimate goal. It just suddenly happens because that’s how realizations come to us. Suddenly and unexpectedly.

Can a story work with one kind of plot without the other?

You can create a decent story with just an external plot, although it will have little depth. But it’s harder to make a story work if all you have is an internal plot. As we’ve seen in the example above, there is little or no plot movement with an internal plot, which means boredom sets in quickly. Your story goes nowhere fast, because all you have to talk about is how do I win Dad’s love.

It’s like swimming in a pool, back and forth, round and round, until you either get out or drown. Not very exciting. With an external plot, you’re swimming in the ocean. You can swim to another beach. You can explore beneath the waves. You can get on a passing boat or catch a fish. And each advancement creates a new situation.

Of course, the ideal situation is to use them both together. Jack’s homelife sucks because he believes his dad doesn’t love him. When he plays guitar in the school band, it fills the emptiness inside him. He figures if he can get his own guitar, he can play at home and take that good feeling with him, rather than stare at the walls because Dad never talks to him. So he gets a job, but Dad loses his. In an effort to win Dad’s love, Jack sacrifices his guitar and gives Dad the money he’s made to help out. Dad sees it as an insult and flings the money out the window. Now Jack has a dilemma. Does he continue working and keep the money and get his guitar? Or does he quit so Dad won’t feel like less of a man? Or does he continue to work and put the money toward food and rent even though it makes Dad angry?

Regardless of what he decides, the plot moves forward because Jack was forced to make a moral, ethical or emotional decision, and that makes him a more rounded character. He becomes more human. The story also becomes more interesting because the internal and external plots are working against each other, which causes conflict and tension. As the story progresses, these two plots will continuously intertwine and, instead of having a story that’s all action or all emotion, you have a story that contains both. You have a story with depth. You have a story kids will want to read.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Poetry Friday: Forgetfulness (and author attribution)

Well, I completely spaced the blog today - apologies!

 Hence - two poems by Richard Lee King - one of which has already achieved the status of having become one of those things that floats around the internet without attribution. So let me attribute it here, and point out that the author has a website and several books in print (and for sale).


I’ve forgotten what I can’t remember,
or can’t remember what I forgot.
This remembering thing is a problem,
cause I think it happens quite a lot.

The things I can’t remember
seem to slip right out of my mind.
I can’t remember why it happens,
but it seems to happen all the time.

I leave myself reminder notes,
then can’t remember where I left them,
and since I’ve forgotten where they are,
It’s more than likely to happen again.

When I do find one of my notes,
can’t remember what it’s about.
Likely, if they were more complete,
they’d carry a lot more clout.

I seldom remember what I’ve forgotten,
though I’ll remember that I forgot.
Sometimes I’ll be reminded,
but after the fact, likely as not.

But, now on my computer
there’s a calendar in my software
and if I remember to remind myself,
I can find the answer there.

So now, my daily chore
to keep my mind fancy free,
remember to turn on my computer
and send a reminder note to me.

Copyright 2010 Richard Lee King


Recently I wrote a poem
called, My Rememberer is Broke.
I wasn’t really serious,
it was intended as a joke.

But, for some it touched a nerve
and wasn’t all that funny,
though it was mostly about me
with parts of it, about my honey.

I wrote it for my mom,
just some fun I wanted to poke.
A little something for her to read,
while having her morning smoke.

You see, I sometimes don’t remember things
and I live here all alone.
Just the other day I had to call myself,
‘cause I couldn’t find my phone.

And recently I found the TV remote
in the cradle where the phone should be.
I wondered who could have put it there,
knowing all along the answer was me.

Like I said, I live alone,
there’s no one I can blame.
I always say, “That’s the last time.”
Yet, it keeps happening just the same.

I find things in all sorts of places
that I know they don’t belong.
I’ve heard them sing about things like that,
but I can’t remember who sings that song.

Found my keys in with the silverware,
while I was looking for a spoon.
I’d been looking for the damn things,
since yesterday afternoon.
I spend hours on my computer
and I’d probably spend many more,
but they keep asking for my key word
and I can’t remember where its stored.

Over the years I’ve used different ones
before I completely filled my brain.
Now when I try to recall them
it causes memory strain.

I’m sure I wrote them down
and stored them where they’d be safe,
but now I can’t remember where,
boy that really makes me chafe!

Seems things often get misplaced
and I know it’s all my fault.
I just keep forgetting things
like the combination to my vault.

I bought it to keep my things safe,
should have gotten one with a key.
turns out the one they’re safest from
just happens to be me.

Course if it had a key,
I'd have to keep track of where is was,
something else for my brain to remember,
which it hardly ever does.

So, I stashed my spare money
till the combination was resolved.
Then I couldn’t find it,
oh the nasty words I mouthed.

I finally came across it
long after I’d given up.
It was up in my cupboard
inside my favorite coffee cup.

I’m sure I put it there
during a brief moment of reason,
thinking my next cup of coffee
would turn out really pleasing.

Pleasing doesn’t describe
the sensations that I felt,
for if I was a religious man
I’m certain I would have knelt.

You see that stash of money,
was quite a healthy wad
and if I’d have never found it
I’d have had a serious talk with God.

Copyright 2010 Richard Lee King

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Women of Wednesday: Mary Heaton Vorse

 My search for the source of the “apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair “ quote the other day drew my attention to Mary Heaton Vorse (1874-1966), a writer of whom I knew almost nothing. Being a curious sort, I resolved to look into her – and a fascinating character she was!

about 1900
Mary was born in New York City to a very wealthy family, grew up in New York and Amherst, Massachusetts, travelled extensively and became fluent in several European languages. At 22 she went off to study at the Art Student’s League in New York, which I have previously read about in the stories of Hilda Belcher and Georgia O’Keefe. There she met a number of women (and a few men) who were active in political causes, especially women’s suffrage. She also discovered that she didn’t really have a talent for painting.

In 1898 Mary married a journalist who encouraged her to develop her writing instead of her painting. They moved to Provincetown in 1906, where Mary gave birth to two children and several books. Her husband died in 1910 and in 1912 Mary married another journalist, Joseph O’Brien. Joseph was quite a radical and through him Mary was re-introduced to politics, becoming a friend of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and turning her pen to the causes of workers' rights, suffrage and pacifism. By all accounts this was a very happy, friendly marriage and resulted in the birth of a third child before ending tragically with Joe’s death in 1915.

During the years of the First World War Mary wrote extensively in opposition to the war, as well as articles about labor (particularly the plight of child laborers and women) and the problems of the working class. While she wrote for radical papers such as The Masses, her articles also appeared in magazines with national readership: Atlantic Monthly, The New York, Harper’s, The New Republic, etc.

Mary was one of the founders of the Provincetown Theater group, working with a number of better-known (today) writers including Edna St. Vincent Millay and Eugene O’Neill. She was also a founder of the Women’s Peace Party (with Jane Addams and other names more familiar to us today), which formed in 1915 in opposition to American involvement in World War I.

In the early 1920s a miscarriage and a failed love affair dragged Mary into alcoholism, but she overcame the addiction and went on to write several more books and hundreds of articles. Clearly she lived the adage for which she remains known: “The art of writing is applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” An inspiration to all of us who hope our writing will make a difference, Mary continued to live in her beloved Provincetown until her death at 92. She should be better known!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Mentor Monday: Writing Exercises 1 - Point of View

If you’re like me, the idea of doing a writing exercise when you have an assignment to do (or a great-American-novel begging to be written) feels like a waste of time. It also carries a whiff of the classroom, and as someone who hated writing in school, that whiff is often enough to send me off in search of a closet to clean or an errand to run.

Still, like playing the piano, writing is both a talent and a skill. As a skill, it improves with practice. We know that concert pianists still play scales and drills as well as practicing the music for their next shows – why do we think writers should only write for publication?

In addition, like finger exercises, writing exercises can also be used as warm-ups for writing the “real” work. As such they often serve as block-busters (in the sense of busting through writer’s block), getting you into the BIC* position with fingers on the keyboard without the looming threat of having to produce something. (Sometimes your exercise will even produce material you can use in your work for publication – but don’t plan on that or you change the dynamic.)

Just as with playing the piano, there are lots and lots of writing exercises, but only so many variations on a theme. Over my next few Mentor Mondays I’ll be collecting and improvising upon some oldies-but-goodies from the writing exercise bag of tricks. Each post will focus on a different purpose for the exercise.

This week’s exercise will build on the Mentor Monday series on Voice from earlier this year (see January 31, March 7 and April 11). It is intended to exercise your skill with developing and maintaining a point of view. 

“Point of view” shifting is a common problem for beginning writers, and one that can challenge even experienced writers. Based on my occasional freelance critique work, I believe this is a particularly difficult problem for people who watch a lot of movies or television drama. Those genres allow the writer to move from one character’s point of view to another without confusing the “reader” (in this case, viewer). The visual format allows for all kinds of cues: fade-outs, scene changes, even music create the transitions. It turns out this is very bad training for the mind of a would-be writer. 

Written works can employ more than one point of view, but it is much more difficult to do effectively. For younger readers multiple points of view are essentially verboten. This means that everything that happens in the story has to be observed or experienced by the protagonist, and described in a way that is natural for that character. 

Exercise: Pick a story from morning news, preferably one that involves one or more children. Write collection of narratives based on this account from the point of view of every person possibly involved. Note, this is an exercise. You are free to remain as true to the actual event as possible, or to embellish it wildly. The news story serves only to get you past the need to think up an idea. I just saw a story about a porch collapsing at a Father’s Day party, sending multiple people to hospital. I don’t know who was at the party, but for my exercise it will include at least three generations of family members so I can have distinctly different voices and points of view. In addition to the various attendees at the party, the actual news story included interviews with neighbors and the police, fire and rescue responders, giving me even more points of view to explore.

*BIC = Butt in Chair - the essential "secret" to all writing success - although with the growing popularity of treadmill and other standing desks, it may need revising. See Mary Heaton Vorce, purportedly the originator of “The art of writing is applying seat of pants to seat of chair.”

Friday, June 17, 2011

Poetry Friday: Happy Birthday to Sir Paul McCartney

Tomorrow is Paul McCartney's birthday. I was lucky enough to help him celebrate it a little early (along with 14,000 others) a week ago today in Las Vegas. It was my second McCartney concert, and I can tell you this: At 69 years old, Paul is as cute as ever and he still rocks the house. 

Happy Birthday to you, Sir Paul. (Andy, I'm thinking of you as I write this. Some day, you and I will go see our favorite British boyfriend in concert!) 

Lucky enough to sit this close in Montreal -- August 12, 2010

Today's offering for Poetry Friday are the lyrics of Blackbird, one of my all-time favorite songs. It's credited to Lennon/McCartney, but it was Paul who wrote it in 1968 in Scotland -- inspired by the ongoing racial tensions in the US, and as a message for those who were fighting for equality.  He said this in a radio interview:

"I had been doing poetry readings. I had been doing some in the last year or so because I've got a poetry book out called "Blackbird Singing", and when I would read Blackbird, I would always try and think of some explanation to tell the people, 'cause there's not a lot you can do except just read the poem, you know, you read 10 poems that takes about 10 minutes, almost. It's like, you've got to, just, do a bit more than that. So, I was doing explanations, and I actually just remembered why I'd written Blackbird, you know, that I'd been, I was in Scotland playing on my guitar, and I remembered this whole idea of "you were only waiting for this moment to arise" was about, you know, the black people's struggle in the southern states, and I was using the symbolism of a blackbird. It's not really about a blackbird whose wings are broken, you know, it's a bit more symbolic"
                      Paul McCartney, Interview with KCRW's Chris Douridas, May 25, 2002

The poem is in smaller print so the line breaks stay to true to format.


Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these sunken eyes and learn to see

All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free

Black-bird fly

Black-bird fly, into the light of a dark black night

Black-bird fly

Black-bird fly, into the light of a dark black night

Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly

All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise 

Rock on over to Jone's and check out more Poetry Friday posts.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Poetry Friday: A Debt Owed…

So yesterday, I started to clean the pool and found a little black vole sitting on the top step. When I approached, he dove into the water and headed for the deep end. His decision was not going to end well. I decided to intervene. I scooped him up with the net, set him down near the pool fence, and watched him head off to the woods.

I hope that field mouse knows he owes me. In his honor:

The Lion and the Mouse

(after Aesop)

Lion lies sleeping, silent and still,

Along comes a mouse and thinks he’s a hill.

Up the great body the little mouse goes,

Through mane, across ear, and down Lion’s nose.

But Lion wakes up and gives a great roar,

Catches poor Mouse in his long cruel claw.

“How dare you walk over your king and your lord!

For this only death shall be your reward.”

The little mouse shivers and shudders with fright,

Tries hard to think how to put things a-right.

“Forgive my mistake, mighty Lion, I pray,

And I promise to help you too some day.”

At this Lion laughs and shakes to and fro,

But he’s now in good humour and lets the mouse go.

Days come and days go, and some hunters pass by

Who set a great lion-trap cunning and sly.

Lion walks in, unaware of the threat,

And suddenly finds himself caught in a net.

Frustrated he roars with wrath and despair;

Little Mouse hears how he’s caught in a snare.

She remembers her promise and runs without pause

To the spot where the Lion so rages and roars.

Her sharp little teeth set to gnawing the rope,

Thread after thread, now the Lion feels hope.

Soon there’s a hole and the Lion is freed.

The Mouse has kept her promise indeed!
Paul King

Stay out of the deep end. Instead, head over to Anastasia's blog for the round-up:

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Secret Method for Writing Success

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” Somerset Maugham

Maugham was wrong. There are exactly 10 rules for having a successful writing career and here they are:

1) Always write in a space in your home that you have dedicated to this purpose.
Find a spot to write (such as a coffee shop or the library) that takes you away from your distractions at home.

2) Write at the same time every day and write for a pre-determined amount of time or a set number of pages per day.
Write whenever you can squeeze in a minute or two.

3) Play some inspirational background music while you write.
Write in silence. Thoughts become clearer.

4) Keep a paper and pen next to your bed so you can write down any ideas that come to you as you dream.
Don’t worry about ideas escaping from you. When you write, important ideas return.

5) Develop character studies and outline a plot before you begin to write.
Let your writing flow freely and write scenes out of order.

6) Read the types of genres you want to write.
Don’t read too much of the same genre that you write or you may find that your own, singular voice disappears.

7. Uh…

Oh, never mind. I just realized there’s only one rule.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Poetry Friday--"Miracle Ice Cream"

Last weekend was hot and sunny. All the windows were open and from about 10 AM on, I would hear the sounds of the ice cream truck.

When I came across "Miracle Ice Cream" by Adrienne Rich, I knew it was the one for me to share this week.
MIRACLE's truck comes down the little avenue,
Scott Joplin ragtime strewn behind it like pearls,
and, yes, you can feel happy
with one piece of your heart.

Take what's still given: in a room's rich shadow
a woman's breast swinging lightly as she bends.
Early now the pearl of dusk dissolves.
Late, you sit weighing the evening news,
fast-food miracles, ghostly revolutions,
the rest of your heart.


© Adrienne Rich from Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995 [W.W. Norton, 1995]
I love the tunes the ice cream truck plays as it makes its rounds. No Scott Joplin in my neighborhood, but there's a good old dose of Stephen Foster. Here's a haiku I wrote last year, at the beginning of the season:
way down upon the swa...
the ice cream truck
hurries past

© Diane Mayr, all rights reserved
I have a big piece of my heart always ready for the ice cream truck, but all I eat is the music and the childhood memories!

It's still too early in the morning for ice cream, so while you're waiting for things to heat up, head over to Toby's Writer's Armchair and sit a while reading through the Round-Up.


The photo was taken by John Ferrell, 1942, in Washington, D.C., and comes to us courtesy the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Women of Wednesday--What We're Seeing

A few weeks ago, I watched the documentary Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising's Image of Women by Jill Kilbourne--it left me speechless. Rather than summarize it for you, here's the trailer:

So what do we do? We discuss. We refuse to purchase the products being sold. We support young women in making healthy choices. But, more importantly, we make sure all of our kids become media literate. What's media literacy? This is taken from the Center for Media Literacy's (CML) vision statement:
the ability to communicate competently in all media forms as well as to access, understand, analyze, evaluate and participate with powerful images, words and sounds that make up our contemporary mass media culture.
The CML site has an archive of its magazine, Media and Issues, and you can read articles online. I did a search under the term "images of women" and the top four results all dealt specifically with the portrayal of women as explored in Jill Kilbourne's film. Interesting reading.

PBS has information on Digital Media Literacy on its webpage. There's lots more information on media literacy online or at your local library.

Just as dripping water will wear away rock, a constant barrage of false media images can wear down a child's self-esteem. Please let's all make an effort to be more aware of what we're seeing.