Learning The Write Stuff

A new school year has begun, and my grandkids aren’t the only students in the family. Yes, Mimi went off to writers’ school, i.e., a writers’ conference, last week. Unlike young students who brush off the question, “What did you learn in school today?,” I am happy to fill you in on the results of my author academics.

In kindergarten, my grandson Liam is learning the basics–the alphabet, counting, acceptable classroom behavior, etc. In writer’s school, I found out about the BISAC‘s. No, that’s not a misspelled word. If you are going to write a book, you need to know how it will be categorized. There’s a code for it. You can’t say that you are going to write in the fiction genre. What kind of fiction will you write? Fantasy? Christian? Historical? Mystery? And there are subgenres. You may not have written a word yet and a code will have to be called on you from stressing out over determining the correct BISAC.

When perusing the conference schedule of classes, I noted that one sounded like a fun kindergarten activity. It addressed show and tell. Now that’s a great way to get to know your fellow writing students. What goodies would they be showing and telling me about? Their favorite writing pen? A partially written manuscript? Plot notes on a napkin? Nope. None of these. Show and tell refers to how a writer conveys information to the reader. You don’t write that your main character Suzy is sad. That’s telling her emotion. A good writer pens that Suzy’s shoulders drooped, her head hung, and tears formed in the corners of her eyes. That’s showing the reader your character’s emotion. My favorite part of this class was the faculty member showing us the bag of dark chocolates she had to share with us.

My fellow writing students and I learned that not only do we need to know how to handle storytelling, but we must learn to handle rejection as well. Once we have conquered getting our story down, it is on to the next hurdle–publication. Not everyone will love our creative babies; those who don’t like them may be some key people in the publication process, i.e., agents, editors, and publishers. One highly successful and multi-published faculty member revealed that she had received twelve (that’s a DOZEN) rejections in ONE DAY. That’ll never happen to me, though. Not that I won’t ever get rejected, but I have never sent my work to that many people for consideration at one time. And rejection is THE END. Why ask why you were rejected? We were informed that you are never told the reason. Just deal with it.

An author sells her book, right? Partially true. An author apparently sells herself as well. A successful writer must be media savvy. She needs to be out there on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc., getting the masses to like and friend her. Guidelines were given as to how often this media presence should occur. Seriously? Who has time to tweet 3-4 times a day? Shouldn’t I be working on my manuscript instead? You want me to be concerned about filtering for color consistency and having Content 6 for Instagram? Can’t I just post a cute picture of my cat/dog?  Social media is becoming less and less fun for authors. Why, it is work! Following a class on “The Instagram Influence,” I felt like I might be under the influence as my head was swimming.

Most discouraging of all was the explanation given to the writing students of realistically how long it takes for a book to get published once in the pipeline of a traditional publishing house. Eighteen months to two years? Say what? That’s longer than a pregnancy! It is way too long to be expecting my creative baby to be birthed. So much for our fast-food society. We can be instantly connected via cell phone or social media, get burgers and fries in a jiffy, and be approved for a mortgage online in minutes, but you’ll age two years before seeing your book in print. Egad!

One thing about my writers’ conference mirrors the typical school experience. Every student has a favorite period during the school day. Mine was, without any doubt, the two hours plus break in the afternoons. The third day I took a two hour nap as I was physically exhausted and mentally drained. Learning about writing wore me out. At least we were not required to nap on mats on the classroom floor. I could escape to my hotel room and sleep on an actual bed.

Many practical tips about writing were conveyed during the course of the conference. More than one faculty member urged us to be prepared to take notes at any time because writers see a story in everything. How true! I mean you are getting a story out of my attending writing classes, right? On a more mundane level, my attention was captured by smashed lemons I spied in the parking lot of the dining hall at the conference center. What was the significance of this find? Who, or perhaps what, left that battered fruit on the ground? When life gives you lemons, write a story! I mulled over possible storylines as I enjoyed a lemon bar for dessert inside the dining hall.

Social lessons were also learned through interaction with fellow students. Upon meeting another writer, information is exchanged as to where each writer lives and her genre. (HINT: That’s genre and not GENDER as one obvious newbie blundered and said at a previous conference.) Writers are also into cards. Oh, no–not playing them. You simply must have a writers’ business card to exchange and network. But the most desired item of all is another writer’s e-mail address. It’s called platform building. For realtors it’s location, location, location. For writers it’s connection, connection, connection.

The writing conference is over, but my learning about writing never will. It is an ongoing process. But, I am in hopes that what I learned last week will enable me to know enough right stuff to get my book published. Stay tuned–it may be out in a couple of years!

Just WONDER-ing: Have you ever considered being a writer? What do you think being a writer involves? If you were a writer, about what would you write?



















Foul Language Is For The Birds

Netflix’s “Orange Is The New Black” fails to mention an important color in the series’ title–blue. Yes, blue as in the characters in the show (inmates, guards, administrators, family members, etc.) cussing a blue streak. I am totally hooked on this show which addresses cutting edge societal issues, but at the end of every episode I feel like my ears have been assaulted. Unfortunately, the show simply reflects how our society is today, i.e., it’s not polite.

Growing up I led a fairly sheltered existence. I NEVER in my life heard my parents or any of their friends use foul language. Of course, that meant I did not use that type of language either. I was expected to look, act, and speak like a lady.  I got into trouble if I dared tell my sister or brother to  (GASP!) “shut up.”

Becoming a military “dependent” when I married did broaden the types of language to which I was exposed. Ironically, military members are some of the most polite individuals you will ever meet. You are always addressed as “ma’am” or “sir.” Once I conducted a consultation in my office with a female military member. I thought I would scream if she addressed me as “ma’am” one more time. I mean every sentence she spoke during our hour and a half meeting contained that word.

But military members can flip off that language switch producing polite addresses and shoot off a barrage of quite colorful language. Stereotypically it is sailors who turn the air around them blue (perhaps to match the ocean?), but let me assure you that the Air Force, Army and Marines can be proficient in spewing foul language as well.

Although the military may be the worst offenders when it comes to exploding expletives around others, they are able to rein in their words. Even the roughest of the rough is expected to show restraint in the presence of superior officers, women, and children. If you can resist the urge to cuss in some instances, then flex that restraint muscle more.

Why do people feel the need to speak with “potty mouth?” Various theories have been put forth in explanation. First, cussing can serve as an anger management technique. Yes, I suppose it is better to let an “f bomb” fly in someone’s presence than to hit him in anger. But is that the BEST anger management technique to use? Pretty sure Mom would answer a resounding, “NO!”

Cussing may be viewed as an indication that the speaker is being honest and real. If he doesn’t filter his words, then he is probably not taking the time to doctor up the facts. Feeling comfortable enough to cuss around someone may also generate a spirit of camaraderie. But then, maybe we should be more selective of with whom we associate. How about connecting with  “speak no evil” folks?

On a practical level, cussing may lessen physical pain. Stubbing one’s toe or hitting one’s thumb with a hammer would be a common time for cussing to occur. According to a British study, saying any commonly used expletive can work to reduce physical pain. Wouldn’t it be better to just pay more attention to what you are doing so you don’t have an accident requiring vulgar language to cope with the resulting pain?

Admittedly, we all slip up at one point or another. My husband spent twenty years serving in the U.S. Air Force, but he would watch his mouth around the kids. Two of our favorite family stories are set in situations where a cuss word was trying to slip out. Good saves occurred when hubby blurted out “shitake mushrooms” and “jack-o-lantern” thereby avoiding words not suitable for young ears. Fortunately, he had a better outcome than Ralphie did in “A Christmas Story.” As the movie narrator explains, Ralphie uttered “Fuuuudge”–only he didn’t say “Fudge”.

In the past parents, such as Ralphie’s, turned to washing a child’s mouth out with soap when bad language was used by a little darling. That punishment would undoubtedly be considered child abuse today. In any event, there’s probably not enough soap on the shelves at the local grocery store to get rid of the rampant revolting language that is commonly heard in public, in music, in movies, etc. today.

But foul language is not an issue that has just reared its ugly head. Back in the early 70’s, George Carlin delivered a monologue called “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television.” Certainly there were more than seven words that were taboo, but I am guessing that seven was an attractive number. I mean there are seven deadly sins, so why not seven do not speak cuss words? George should have taken the hint that these words were not to be publicly spoken, but alas, he did not. Instead he performed this routine publicly at a music festival in Milwaukee in 1972 and was promptly arrested for disturbing the peace. Hmm. No assault (on the ears) charge?

Use of foul language found a wider audience on a bigger stage during the last presidential election. Trump’s declaration that he would make America great again clearly did not refer to clean speech. After publicly letting fly some choice words that Carlin would characterize as ones that can never be said on television, Trump finally reconsidered. He announced at a political rally in Baton Rouge that “I won’t use foul language.” Maybe he was misquoted and that was “fowl” language. But he’s both squawked and cussed since then.

Whether it is a comedian, POTUS, a military member or John Q. Public, foul language is neither polite nor the best choice of words. Humans are high level thinkers and don’t have bird brains. So why don’t we all agree to engage our brains before opening our mouths? Leave foul (and fowl!) language to the birds. To quote a favorite line from Season 6 of OITNB–“Bulltrue!”

JUST WONDER-ing:  How do you feel when someone uses foul language in your presence? Do you think less of someone who resorts to foul language to express his thoughts and opinions? Is the use of foul language ever appropriate?








School Daze — Coping With Kindergarten

The wheels on the bus were going round and round Monday with the start of public school in my area. I am in a daze that school days are here for my first grandchild who just began kindergarten. Where did the time go? Wasn’t it just last week I was driving to work crying my eyes out that my daughter (now a kindergartener’s mother) might not be able to open her new plastic crayon box by herself?

Yes, kindergarten is traumatic for all involved. The wee one is thrust into an unfamiliar environment where he/she is away from mom and is expected to do rigorous things like sit still for certain periods of time and remain quiet while the teacher is talking. (Good luck with that!)  It is no less traumatic for the parents who have to come to grips with the fact that their baby is no longer a baby. He’s on the road to spreading his wings and flying away from the nest.  I’d venture to say that more tears were to be seen than backpacks on Day 1 of the kindergarten adventure. I admit, I shed a tear (or two) when my daughter texted me a picture of my grandson ready to leave for his first day out in the big school world.

Kindergarten is a place where little ones learn. Maybe we should take some time to learn about kindergarten itself. Mercifully, kindergateners merely have to attend kindergarten and not learn how to spell it. What kind of word is kindergarten? (Other than four syllables, of course.) Actually the word is from German and literally means a garden for the children. Gardeners grow flowers, but kindergarten teachers grow pre-schoolers.

Friedrich Frobel is recognized as the founder of kindergarten. Being German, he naturally named the program in his native language. The term “pre-school” is not German; however, kindergarten is a preschool education program. Its aim is to help a child transition from home to school. The concept of kindergarten arose in the context of the industrial revolution. School were encouraged for young children since mom, dad and older siblings were off at work in factories, a less than ideal location for rugrats to be underfoot.

But we’ve come a long way, baby, since Frobel’s kindergarten and my kindergarten. My recollection of kindergarten is limited. I basically remember doing crafts, and that’s about it. Not so today. Kindergarteners have to be assessed for their readiness to even start kindergarten, and I’m not talking craftiness. My grandson was asked to identify various basic words for his screening. Say what? Isn’t that the purpose of kindergarten–to teach little ones things?

So what does a “Kindergarten Readiness Screener” assess?  Here are some items listed on a state education website. Can the student hold/use a pencil? (A pencil? Just ask the kid to text mom on a cell phone.) Can he share with others? (HA! Some adults would fail that test.) Is he able to stand/hop on one foot? (Ditto for intoxicated adults.)

Apparently kindergarten mirrors our performance-driven society. Before day one of kindergarten my daughter was given a list of vocabulary which her son is expected to know by certain points in the year. Guess coloring within the lines has been left in the achievement dust.

In Florida, kindergarten is not mandatory. It is a one-year program for children who have turned five on or before September 1st. The compulsory school age in Florida is six; therefore, kindergarten strives to help a child become “comfortable” in a classroom setting before he is required by law to be in it.  I am not sure anyone is ever “comfortable” in a classroom; even kindergarteners have to endure nap time lying on thin mats on the hard classroom floor.

And, sadly, these days school is not simply about learning. It is about SURVIVING. Back in my early school days, the biggest concern we had was a fire in the school. We’d have fire drills where we learned to line up and exit the school building in an orderly fashion. No one was genuinely concerned about a fire really occurring. Today, on the other hand, kindergarteners will likely have to participate in active shooter drills. Wow! First the child is separated from his parent and once in the classroom we advise that the monster isn’t under the bed but toting a gun down the school hallways?  Yikes!

Another change in kindergarten procedure is preparing for the first day. I don’t remember having to take anything with me to kindergarten on day one other than a new school outfit and a positive attitude. Kindergartens today need backpacks if for nothing else than to lug all the school supplies that they are asked to bring–crayons, paint, markers, crayon boxes, construction paper, scissors, etc. Good thing I’m paying all those taxes to support the schools–apparently the buildings with no supplies in them.

Kindergarteners are our future. Thus, providing them with safe and effective gardens to grow in is critical. But children are also delicate like flowers in a garden. Let’s not push them to hurry up and bloom by learning 100 vocabulary words by Christmas. There’s something to be said for allowing them to enjoy the sunshine of friendship and fun for a bit. Let’s not introduce them to performance anxiety off the bat.

My grandson had a grand first day of kindergarten. And no, I did not ask him what he learned. I inquired if he had a good time. He did and wants to go back. Now that’s a successful start to kindergarten. He’s able to cope with his new environment, but I’m still in a daze that I am a Mimi to an adorable and growing kindergartener.

JUST WONDER-ing:  What do you remember about your kindergarten experience? If you are a parent, was your child’s first day of kindergarten traumatic for you? For him/her?






Something’s Afoot–Is It Bigfoot?

Imagine my surprise when I picked up the local paper recently and read that there have been a number of Bigfoot sightings here in our neck of the woods in Northwest Florida. The Emerald Coast is known more for its beautiful white sand beaches than what might be lurking in the woods the roads run through to get tons of tourists to said beaches. But, it appears that I need to be concerned about creatures in the woods (i.e., Bigfoot) and not just creatures in the sea (i.e., sharks).

But, wait, how can this be? Isn’t Bigfoot supposed to inhabit the Pacific Northwest? Florida is a long way from there.  Even though about 1/3 of all Bigfoot sightings have occurred in the Pacific Northwest, Bigfoot has been sighted in every single U.S. state except for Hawaii. This information means that Bigfoot could be anywhere and everywhere in this country.  Hawaiians shouldn’t feel too safe; I’m sure that Bigfoot is saving up for an exotic Hawaiian vacation in the near future.

So what exactly is a Bigfoot? I can’t spout a dictionary definition off of the top of my head, but I am pretty sure I’d know one if I saw it. For those of you academics who need concrete information, a Bigfoot (also known as a Sasquatch) is a hairy, upright walking ape-like being who lives in the wilderness and who leaves behind large footprints.  Wonder how long it took them to come up with that clever name of Bigfoot for the creature?

Bigfoot has been around for quite awhile. Many Native American tribes across the U.S. and Canada have stories about the hairy creature. The name Sasquatch is from Halkomelem, a native language of the Pacific Northwest.  The stories about Sasquatch in Native American folklore and physical representations of the beast on totem poles are similar to eyewitness accounts from Bigfoot encounters. That must be a BIG totem pole to get a carved Bigfoot on it!

“Bigfoot” is the more modern name for the elusive hairy creature. This term was coined back in 1958 when a bulldozer operator came across and then cast large tracks at Bluff Creek, California. The terms Sasquatch and Bigfoot are used interchangeably, but Bigfoot is likely the preferred term because it is easier to spell and to pronounce for John Q. Public.

Certainly, Bigfoot is merely a mythical figure, right? Not according to Animal Planet; its website notes that that there have been way too many witnesses for this creature to be imaginary. In fact, the site points out, in some instances there have been multiple witnesses to a sighting.  I can just imagine a group of campers in the woods saying (or perhaps singing) to each other, “Do you see what I see?”

Of course, modern man demands evidence to believe anything. And evidence exists supporting the proposition that the creature is real. Pictures, videos and audio recordings of Bigfoot have been taken. Audio recordings contain Bigfoot sounds which are distinct from the sounds made by known animals. Footage of a Bigfoot walking was taken back in 1967 and is boringly referred to as the Patterson-Gimlin film. Personally, I think “Bigfoot Walking” would’ve been a catchier name for the video.

Skeptics, unsurprisingly, discount photographic evidence of Bigfoot by claiming it is a human dressed to look like a Bigfoot.  Anyone who proffers that explanation for a Bigfoot sighting in Florida likely has not set foot in this hot and humid state. What idiot is going to don a gorilla suit and trudge through the woods when he could be imbibing a cool adult beverage in a swanky air-conditioned club in Destin?  Stupid question! No one would, that’s who.

Even if someone were crazy enough to try and dress like a Bigfoot, the prankster could not survive close scrutiny. Bigfoot pictures show creatures with shorter legs and larger arms proportionately than a human. So a figure might be hairy and ape-like, but that doesn’t make it Bigfoot/ShortLegs/LargeArms.

Some Bigfoot investigations are quite scientific.  A Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) exists and undertakes to document sightings and information obtained on Bigfoot.  According to this organization’s records, there have been over 300 confirmed Bigfoot sightings in Florida, over 400 in California and over 650 in Washington State. Either there is more than one Bigfoot or this creature really gets around.

Make sure you are seated before I enlighten you further about Bigfoot. Per BFRO, the estimated number for this species in North American ranges from a few thousand to 10,000, with the highest concentration in Washington, Oregon and Northern California. Man! That’s a lot of big feet out there in them woods!

What do we know about Bigfoots? They are described as an omnivorous, nocturnal species. The creatures avoid confrontation. Their reported behavior is typically actions to discourage a witness’ continued presence in their area. A Bigfoot may throw small objects, stomp and shake trees in a physical representation of the command “Go away!” Hey, he wouldn’t have to tell me twice. I’d be heading for the hills as soon as I saw him.

Bigfoot encounters have similar fact situations.  Typically they occur at night in the woods or in a swampy rural area. The creature is smelled before he is seen. No, that extremely rank odor is not a small skunk; it is a BIGFOOT! Well, duh, this information tells me exactly what I need to know. I am never going to encounter a Bigfoot because I do not hang out in the woods or swamp at night. If you don’t want to encounter Bigfoot, I advise you to do likewise.

Whether or not Bigfoot is real, the creature is a pretty cool topic of conversation. It beats the divisive political rhetoric in the news. I guess what I’m saying is I’d rather hear/read about Bigfoot than about big mouths. Who’s with me?

Just WONDER-ing: Do you believe Bigfoot exists? If you don’t, what proof would you need to convince you of the creature’s existence? What would you do if you saw a Bigfoot?









Getting a HANDle On Beauty And NAILing It

Watching “Beauty And The Beast” may be enjoyable, but attaining beauty can be a real beast. Nevertheless, women strive for outer beauty because Prince Charming is apparently superficial and cares more about how our toenails look while trying a glass slipper than the personality of the foot owner. Forget inner beauty; it’s all in the packaging.

And nailing beauty often relates to a woman’s nails. The founder of essie Cosmetics believes that “If a woman’s nails aren’t done, she’s not totally dressed.”  Eek!  I’ve unknowingly gone to the market or out to run errands only partially clad. What a fashion faux pas!

Nailing your nails is a huge concern for the modern American woman. In 2017, approximately $8.53 billion (that’s BILLION with a “B” as in beauty) was spent on nail salon services in the United States. And these services were provided at one of the 56,300 nails salons in this country. At a average of  $21 for a basic manicure, women are willing to shell out good money to look good starting at the tips of their fingers.

In case you don’t know your beauty vocabulary, a manicure is the cosmetic beauty treatment for fingernails and hands. Manicures are a beauty treatment HANDed (pun intended) down over the centuries. They are believed to have first been done in India about 5,000 years ago when henna was used as polish. Apparently, an Indian woman was the first lady in red.

Manicures (or “manis” for short) involve filing and shaping nails, pushing cuticles, clipping hangnails, giving liquid treatments, providing a hand massage and applying  nail polish. Sounds pretty tame, right? Nope, your brain is taxed by all the decisions involved with achieving just the right look.

:If your nails are to be filed, a decision has to be made as to the shape into which they will be transformed. Ignorant me, I wasn’t aware that there were at least seven shapes to choose from. Square, oval and round are three options which are pretty basic. Almond shape? That name makes me want to chew on my nails for a nutty taste. Stiletto? Is that the shape you choose in order to channel Cruella Deville? And wouldn’t I run the risk of poking my eye out trying to get my contacts in with stilleto nails? Coffin? Is this the appropriate shape for a funeral or a Halloween party? Squoval? I have a hard time saying that shape much less visualizing it.

In some cases, the natural nails aren’t filed because artificial nails or fake nails are used. These are extensions placed over one’s fingernails as fashion accessories. At least these accessories are attached, so you don’t worry about misplacing them like you might your clutch.

Fake nails are not a modern innovation. Throughout history artificial nails have been common symbols of status across the world. In the Ming Dynasty, for example, noblewomen wore extremely long nails to indicate they were not commoners having to engage in manual labor. Yup! No dish washing or typing for them. Greek women in the upper class formerly wore pistachio shells over their nails to show their position in society. Well, at least those fake nails were natural.

Then there’s nail polish to be applied to either your fake or natural nails. Nail polish is also known as nail varnish. Eww! That’s sounds industrial. What color to use must be determined. I hate to break it to you, but there are more colors to choose from than those found in the rainbow. Why essie Cosmetics alone has produced around 1,000 colors. And that’s just ONE nail company.

A current trend is to have nail polish colors come in clever names. Thus, one has to pick not only a flattering color, but a name that is chic or appealing.  The Emperor’s New Clothes, for example, is a great name for a clear polish.

Doing my Internet research I found that one of the top colors for this summer is Jinsonn’s Sandbar. Yes, that’s a name that conjures up the beach and a tropical paradise. But wait! Even better, the polish is vegan-friendly. Say what? Are people eating their nail polish? I know folks bite their nails, but are they consuming them nail polish and all? Yuk!

Once the fingernails are painted, then there’s the question of whether the toe nail polish should match the fingernail polish. Is matchy-matchy too cutesy? Using the same color might be considered boring, but if the colors are different, then care must be taken to utilize colors and names which don’t clash. Wearing Republican Red on your fingernails and Democratic Denim on your toenails just isn’t PC, ladies.

Royals have strict rules when it comes to nail fashion. Fake nails are verboten to Kate and Meghan as is bright colored nail polish. Queen Elizabeth’s go to polish is essis’s Ballet Slippers, a pale and understated pink. Meghan got a jump on her duchess training by wearing this shade for her wedding to Prince Harry who I am certain was oblivious to what Meghan had painted on her nails for this big event.

Royal or commoner, having manicured nails is all fine and dandy, but polished nails are simply window dressing. I may be in the minority here, but beauty is not about the color nail polish gracing your real or fake nails. Real beauty comes from being perfectly polished. I’ll take a well-mannered, caring and kind lady over one sporting almond nails painted in Pretty In Pink with or without matching toenail polish any day.

Just WONDER-ing: How do you define beauty? If you are a man, how much attention do you pay to a woman’s nails? If you are a woman, what do you do to make yourself beautiful?