Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Communication: A Basic Desire

     Last week I had the pleasure of viewing the documentary “Wretches and Jabberers” a film by Gerardine Wurzburg. Simply put, this was an hour and half of time well-spent. 

     Wurzburg's inspiring documentary chronicles the world travels of two men, Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette , in their passionate quest to change long-held attitudes about the intelligence and abilities (or lack thereof) of people with autism. Tracy, Larry and their support team of assistants, Harvey Lavoy and Pascal Cheng, visit Sri Lanka, Japan and Finland. During this time, the men give presentations about autism, communication, and intelligence. They also meet with other adults with autism facing the same social isolation and barriers. 

     The film, a beautiful mix of advocacy, personal triumph over pain, travel adventures, and humor, takes you for an emotional ride well-worth the cost of any ticket. Both Tracy and Larry grew up isolated by their autism, unable to communicate with the world around them. When Tracy was 23 and Larry 34, their lives changed dramatically when they learned to communicate by typing. Larry notes, "nothing I did...convinced people I had an inner life until I started typing."

     As an educator with a background in special education, this film tugged at every inch of my emotional being. Tracy and Larry give me a front seat to their pain and their triumph. As a viewer, you jump back and forth from cheering on their cause to dabbing away a tear after listening to Tracy comment on “autism’s death grip on my actions.” 

     I would highly recommend “Wretches and Jabberers” to anyone. You do not have to be a special education teacher, or any teacher for that matter, to benefit from watching this documentary. In the end, we all want to communicate, to have our voices heard, even the jabbering. 

     To learn more about the film, please visit:  http://www.wretchesandjabberers.org/synopsis.php

Monday, April 15, 2013

Holding tight on the hardest of days

 “At the temple there is a poem called "Loss" carved into the stone. It has three words, but the poet has scratched them out. You cannot read loss, only feel it.”
                    ― Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

     Today we feel a loss, a pain so deep and real. We can allow it to create hatred and mistrust, especially now as the pain is incredibly raw. Perhaps we would be better served to use it as a reminder to hold tight to those we care for deeply and remind them of our love. We can give our sorrow beautiful words.

      Love and thoughts to those touched by today’s senseless violence in Boston.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Trapping the Muse

     No matter how much I love writing, there are always those days when I need inspiration from one muse or another. Every writer needs to find stimulation, some flash of genius, in order to be successful. When it comes down to it, inspiration should help produce inspired writing. I’m not sure about you but I often find my motivation in the most unlikely places.

     I created a down and dirty list (under 10) of some of my favorite ways to find inspirational nuggets. If I were a betting lady, I would wager that some are rather obvious while others less so. Regardless, it’s always good to re-think possibilities and perhaps find a new avenue on the journey to artistic creation.

     1. Books - Books are, hands down, my favorite place to find inspiration through characters, both real and imaginary. Memoir and nonfiction are my true loves but when I need a good dose of creative energy, I gobble up a good fiction. My new year’s resolution was to try new genres and I’m begrudgingly sticking with it, mainly to help expose myself to unique characters and story lines.

     2. Overheard dialog/People Watching - Okay, I admit it. I eavesdrop terribly. I am that person. I love hearing the conversations other people have, watching their body language change as they react to one another. Even if I can’t hear them clearly, I pretend I know what’s happening and create an imaginary conversation in my mind. Sometimes it gets pretty juicy! I don’t go out just to people watch but it happens, and I get some of my best ideas from these moments. This is when carrying a pad of paper comes in especially handy, especially if your memory is not great (like mine).

     3. Advertisements - I love a clever ad, both in print and on the television. The only reason I sit through any part of the Super Bowl is for the commercials. And those Groupon and Woot! writers are some darn funny people. If you have never actually read some of their work, take a minute and check them out. Reading advertisements is a great way to sharpen up on word choice and voice. These writers know they have to make every word count and when it works, it is magic!

     4. Blogs - I am also a huge fan of blogs and not just blogs on writing, reading, and teaching. I try to read new blogs each week and am amazed by the creativity in topics I come across. Besides the wealth of new knowledge, I also find satisfaction in seeing other like-minded people share their ideas.

     5. Friends and Co-Workers - Conversations with my friends and co-workers have inspired some of my favorite posts and stories. I think being a teacher helps with this, as does hanging out with fellow writers. You will frequently hear one of us say, “There’s a story in that” after listening to a retelling of a bad date, a difficult work day, or a dream vacation. Having friend you can discuss your craft with is a blessing. These people, the truly honest ones anyway, help you work through a block, cut useless words, and tell you when it’s time to let an idea go to the graveyard.

     6. Writing groups - Similar to a good chat with friends, having a solid critique or writing group is a must. If you don’t live near a group, start one on your own! Too busy, find one on the internet. Seriously, this has been one of the absolute best things I have done for myself as a writer. And it’s more than just the networking and critiquing, though both are important. I love my writers group because I feel at home with them. I know there are people out there who think like me, scary as that may be. Sometimes this is all the inspiration I need.

     7. Music - I find music motivating for a number of reasons. I love the rhythm and cadence of music and find it relaxing. I just seem to work better, whether it is writing, exercising, etc., with music playing. I also find great inspiration in the lyrics of many of my favorite songs. I will hear a song and often think, “That would make a great story!” I have a couple friends who are amazing songwriters and in turn, great storytellers.

     8. Children - My husband and I have four kids, and they are my favorite people in the world (my husband, parents, and in-laws being right up there on that list too). I love to spend time with them, talking, and hearing their ideas and thoughts on life. As with any family, our adventures sometimes turn into misadventures and these times are fuel for a funny story. A couple of the stories I enjoyed writing most have been about our family experiences- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

     9. Contests - Enter a contest you never thought you try. Last month I tried a Writer’s Digest weekly prompt about an Open House that goes terribly wrong. Not my usual kind of story but it was a fun experience. More than that, it pushed me to try something new and out of my comfort zone. There was no entry fee and no pressure. I have no idea if I did well and honestly, I am not all that concerned. It just felt good pushing out of my ordinary writing realm. This month – poetry! Wish me luck!

     Good luck with your inspiration. If my list didn’t help, let me know what works for you. Some days, we all need a little boost! – Karen

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Someone Get Me a Mixing Bowl!

     Each month the writer’s group I belong to, Saturday Writers, challenges its members to write short stories. This year the contest theme revolves around color. Rather than simply being genre based, we must include certain color words or images in our writing. It is a bit trickier than one would think at times. While we are only a few months in, I enjoy this new twist on the monthly competitions. 

     I began to wonder what other contests like-minded folks find themselves inclined to enter. Writers Digest has a litany of unique weekly and monthly prompts, sometimes based on a picture and other times with just a sentence starter. They are also hosting a Poem-A-Day event right now celebrating Poetry Month. As I investigated writing contests a bit, I focused on the competitions that had some kind of unique idea or premise. Exploring this seemed like a great way to generate new ideas, review work by other writers, and perhaps find an idea I could really sink my writerly teeth into. 

     I stumbled upon the Washington Post Invitational contest by Merge-Matic Books. It was featured on a blog I follow, Closed the Cover – Book Blog, which is great fun if you are interested. In this challenge, readers were asked to combine the works of two authors, and to provide a suitable description of the merged book. The event, now closed, was a tremendous success with the Post receiving many cleverly fused story blurbs. I would love to see our group incorporating something like this. What a witty idea! I can only imagine the creative combinations many of our members would come up with. 

     Here are a few entries that really stood out to me and got the creative energy running. Not all were winning submissions but I sure enjoyed them. Being a Shakespeare fan, the Hamlet story was, of course, my favorite. 

"Fahrenheit 451 of the Vanities" - Winner - Mike Long
An '80s yuppie is denied books. He does not object, or even notice.

“Green Eggs and Hamlet"- First Runner-up, Robin Parry
Would you kill him in his bed? Thrust a dagger through his head? I would not, could not, kill the King. I could not do that evil thing. I would not wed this girl, you see. Now get her to a nunnery.

"Where's Walden?" - Honorable Mentions- Sandra Hull
Alas, the challenge of locating Henry David Thoreau in each richly-detailed drawing loses its appeal when it quickly becomes clear that he is always in the woods.

"Curious Georgefather" – Honorable Mention - Chuck Smith
The monkey finally sticks his nose where it don't belong.

"The Silence of the Hams” – Honorable Mention - Mark Eckenwiler
In this endearing update of the Seuss classic, young Sam-I-Am presses unconventional foodstuffs on his friend, Hannibal, who turns the tables.

"See Moby Dick run." 
In a freak nuclear accident genetic anomalies teach children about relationships and friends.

"The Lord of the Flies over the Cucko's nest" 
Join Piggy, Ralph and Jack, when after thier return to civilization, they are sentenced to join Chief and Randle Patrick McMurphy in a zany iconoclastic look at Western Mental Health Care.

     See what I mean? This is some fantastic writing, fusing stories old and news and intertwining characters that have no business associating with one another. I love it! I will have to keep working on my own. Feel free to share any ideas you have. I would love to read them!