Archive for the ‘Writing Practice’ Category

Today’s Writing Prompt:  Gwen Bell – 15 Minutes to Live

We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

You just discovered you have fifteen minutes to live.

  1. Set a timer for fifteen minutes.
Write the story that has to be written.

15 minutes

I have 15 minutes to live a life time.

I used to rehearse what I would do if the house caught fire.  What would I save?  My children, pictures of our life together, and in later years my Mac.

And now a different gauntlet has been thrown down at my feet.  I have 15 minutes.  15 lousy stinking minutes to live.

I don’t even have time to figure out what to do.  There’s no time for thinking, only for instinct and action.  My first thought is of my kids, tell them I love them, give them a hug.  My husband, thank him for his love.  Say good bye to my stalwart friends who have humbled and astounded me with the depth of their caring.

And what do I have to give?  I have no fortune to share or secret store of wisdom that I can encapsulate and swiftly download to inoculate my kids from making mistakes, and suffering.  No words that will help my husband to gather himself and move forward.

There is no point in being afraid of death.  That would simply be a waste of time.

In truth, I am stripped bare.   I am a small and imperfect person and yet I have been blessed.  Blessed with family, with friends, with love.  All I have to give in these last seconds are my love, my gratitude for the people I love and a sigh for what I shall miss.


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Under a Buttermilk Sky

This weekend I was visiting with Mom and Dad following a workshop I was presenting in Victoria.

We were sitting in the living room when Mom looked out of the window and commented “Oh!  It’s a buttermilk sky.  I haven’t seen one of those in years!”

Although I had never heard the expression before, I immediately taken by the romance of the phrase, and the sound of the words as I rolled them around in my thoughts savoring them and wondering how I could use them in a story. For some reason they also brought to mind a phrase in the movie “Meet Joe Black”  in which the angel of death refers to Anthony Hopkins speaking in “round pear shaped tones.”  Both phrases have the same feeling and resonance and warmth of the melodious tone of a handbell when it is invited to ring.

The title “Under a Buttermilk Sky” sprang to mind.  The words, the title and the tale, are in waiting.  They are not ready to come out, but when the inspiration comes, they will pour forth in a vibrant river of words, emotion and story.

When I asked Mom about the origin of the phrase and what it meant, she thought that it was just a prairie expression used to describe a hazy sky clustered with tiny puffs of clouds like the curdles in buttermilk.

Like Eskimos have many words to describe snow which dominates their landscape, prairie people have many words to describe the huge sky which covers the prairie from horizon to horizon like an overturned cereal bowl.

I can remember when we first left the prairies for the foothills of Alberta, and being amazed by the rolling hills, mountains and the trees that clustered in the river valley, and foreshortened the landscape giving it a more intimate feeling, although without diminishing the expansive feeling of the sky.

Twenty years later when we moved to Vancouver, I can recall how long it took me to overcome the feeling of claustrophobia that would arise whenever we drove along the highway lined by dense and towering trees into town because I no longer had unobstructed horizon to horizon views.  I often still feel the only way to see the sky is to look directly upwards.

To this day, although I no longer have a desire to live in the dry Alberta climate, I am in awe of the hauntingly beautiful landscape and the expansiveness of the sky.

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Unless you are a writer, you may be unfamiliar with writing practice.  Writing practice is a daily activity that helps lubricate and exercise your writing muscle.  It is invaluable for overcoming writers block and also improves fluency and speed.

There are different ways of approaching writing practice, but generally I tend to pick a topic and write non-stop for ten minutes.  Since the objective is to attain an easy flow with writing, struggling to compose something is counterproductive. Keeping my hand moving for ten minutes is only possible if I feel free to write absolutely inane drivel.

Writing practice does not create great literature, but sometimes in those piles of drivel, you are able to find some gems.  It might be a quirky turn of phrase, a humorous  perspective, a spiritual revelation or an inspiration you want to explore further.  Or it might just be a pile of quickly written drivel, it depends on the day. Somedays it comes easy and some it doesn’t.

Here is an example of a stream of consciousness that served as my writing practice yesterday:

So I realized as I sat down to write that I was freezing up.  I had the white page syndrome that is so deadly for writers.  I felt the drive to produce something ….significant!!!  Talk about the kiss of death for creativity!

As an antidote it is best to do the opposite of significant.  I’m not sure what is opposite to significant, perhaps schlock and irreverence.  Can I do irreverence?  Perhaps.  I know schlok is all too easy.  That is slumming, and I don’t do slums.

I wonder how other writers deal with white page syndrome?  What are their favorite quick fixes.

I think I will try irelevant and irreverent.

Toenails.  I don’t think you can write about anything more irrelevant than that!  Generally I like my toenails, with the exception of my two big ones that have become uncomfortably prone to ingrown toenails.  And the one other to the right of my right big toe, which has had too many hiking injuries and developed a strange peaky hump.

And really this is just too much information even for me.  Who cares?  I guess I have succeeded with irelevant, perhaps crossed over into gross but I’m not sure if one could possibly have anything irreverent to say about toenails, uless you were to talk about the Pope’s toenails.  Does the Pope cut his own toenails?  Now there is a question for the ages.  Is the Pope required to maintain a vow of poverty and does having someone one wait on you hand and foot negate that vow?  Would cutting the Pope’s toenails qualify as a luxery spa service or a medical service?  Hmmm.

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I’m sitting here at Boundary Bay Park on a picnic table listening to the crows chuntering away in the trees above me.  They do this hollow snapping together of their beaks which creates a drumming sound.   Too fast for at least my human reflexes and sound patterns to repeat.  I’m sure there is a bird expert somewhere that can reproduce it.  Maybe my friend Brent could, although I think he is more of a watcher than an impersonator.

Besides, there seem to be so many different calls, that it boggles the mind.  What are they saying, are they laughing at us sitting below them in the trees in danger of being shat upon?  Are they plotting their next sandwich capture?  Are they just partying and bickering amongst the neighbors?

What is it that they can find so fascinating to discuss ad nauseam?  They begin by dawn and are at it seemingly without stop.  They must go in shifts, because they seem to have no time for hunting, eating and mating otherwise!

Crows strike me as being dirty and unsavory. Perhaps it is the experiences I have had with crows that colors my opinion of them.  Like the crows we encounter kayaking who are in your boats trying to steal food while you are ferrying your bags up the beach, and then when you drop the bags to chase the boat bandits away, the second shift flies in and attacks the abandoned food bags.  They hunt in packs and you are helpless against them.  The only protection is experience and vigilance.  Food and plastic bags are just never left within sight or they are at risk.

Of course it is not only the food that is at risk, sometimes it can be your brains!  I mention this, and may perhaps be exaggerating some, but probably not much, since my run in with nesting crows.

It was my habit to get up early and go for a 5 km walk each day.  As I left for my walk, I would be subject to the cat calls of crows balanced on the wires lining the street, like rows of bored construction workers.  On the return trip however, the crows would get downright territorial and swoop and threaten as I approached home.  Diving for my head necessitating me to duck, to avoid run-ins and possible claw entanglements.

It all seemed very unsavory to see them pecking in the garbage at one moment and then diving for my head the next.

Is that unforgiving?

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Coffee Tables are the topic of the day, and I am sitting here beside three coffee tables of indeterminate age and lineage.  They came into my life shortly after getting married, when my mother in law decided she could no longer stand them and went out to buy some she liked better.

Unfortunately they were passed on to me and while 34 years ago I was thankful and appropriately grateful, I am feeling less so these days.

I can find no valid reason for getting rid of them  I need to move them to the top of my priority replace list.  But right now they refuse to die.

They have survived in spite of the assault of generations of children, and courtesy of Joe’s younger brother, a lifetime supply of petrified gum attached to the underside which we had to chip off.

SInce the first generation they have been colored and painted on, they have had Spirograph designs impressed into them.  They have been danced on and used as forts with blankets thrown over them.

And of course they have been used as horizontal storage for books, magazines, junk and snacks.  They are dining and computer tables.  We have used them for games and on occasion they have even been used for coffee.

I can not fault their usefulness, or their bullet proof construction.  Although I had to refinish them about 15 years ago to remove the original finish that had become sticky and gummy, there is not a dent or a wobbly leg to justify retiring them.  The fact I dislike round coffee tables just does not push them to the top of the financial priority list.  There always seems to be something more pressing . . .

And then there is the unfortunate fact that Joe loves them.

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Spring Fog

It was a bright spring morning, so it was a surprise when an unseasonable marine fog breeched the bluff and slowly morphed into a giant roll of cotton batting that tumbled its way down the hill,  thickly shrouding our neighborhood and bringing a welcome quiet, before continuing through town, and drifting insubstantially through the fields beyond, periodically revealing ghostly farm workers toiling in the fields.

I was on the most prosaic of trips, to drop off documents at our accountant’s in preparation for the impending tax deadline, but it is amazing how a little vignette of a transient fog, drifting, shimmering and rising off the fields as the bright sunlight slowly burns it away can serve to highlight your connection to the universe.  Somehow that little dance of nature, which would have occurred witnessed or not, engendered the most profound sense of peace and connection I have felt for some time.  It served to remind me of the vastness and permanence of the universe and my own insubstantial and transient  role in it.  Taxes, errands, responsibilities, should, musts and have to’s are all insubstantial and transient illusions in contrast to the reality of  universal energy.

And as I sit here in reflection, I realize that I saw God today.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

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On The Beach

Crowds of kids,




rehearsing for life.

Spindly cold legs wading tentatively like shore birds,

running, screaming, guffawing,

marinating in joy and mud.

Driving down the freeway last week,

returning from wedding dress shopping with my daughter,

I witness my first murder of crows,

cawing, flying, perching and pecking.

Now sitting on the beach,

I wonder.

Is there such a thing as a murder of children?

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