Pursuing Life's Daring Adventure

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


There is something about daffodils that makes my heart sing—their glorious pronouncement of spring, their sunny disposition, the carefree dance in the early spring breeze, the bold trumpet and frilly skirt, the sweet fragrance, and their rain-slicker yellow coloring. I can’t tell exactly what it is about a daffodil that is so attractive, but having a week with them on the table lifts my spirits in more ways than I can imagine.

As I brought in a luscious bouquet of daffodils yesterday, I had a pressing thought: there is no more intense beauty than a soul that is free.

Life and people often put us into tiny cages—ones meant to keep us under control. Certainly, restraint is often a good thing, and control is somewhat essential for society’s survival. But then, the flip side of that, a soul that is free is amazing.

Perhaps today we can allow ourselves to embrace a little more of what makes us tick. And perhaps today we can release someone else from unattainable expectations, and give the greatest gift of all—affirmation and love for being simply themselves.

Monday, March 16, 2009

On Revision, and the Three Little Pigs

Life with three young boys is never dull. More than the odd noises and strange smells that crop up every other minute or so, a house full of school-age kids easily becomes a sick bay every spring. This one is no different. I’m taking a break from the engrossing art of mixing up new concoctions of Gatorade flavors and my rewrites for novel #2 to offer a few thoughts on revision.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been immersed in revising my second novel, entitled Gloss. Based on the feedback of my agent and others, I’m giving it a thorough workover—a rewrite. And like everything else worthwhile in life, it’s tough work. Sitting with my laptop and a hefty dictionary and thesaurus propped on each side, I’ve been reworking it, literally word by word. Creating a resonant read with lingering characters and fresh words can only be achieved by liposuctioning the flab, as Sol Stein says in my favorite writing book, Stein on Writing. Actually, Mr. Stein dedicates a full chapter to revising fiction, giving the process a worthy title, Triage.

Since I blogged a few weeks ago about Writing and Finishing Your Novel in 2009, I’ll jot down a couple of the things that have hit me during this rewriting session, as rewrites naturally follow finishing your novel.

- “Unwillingness to revise usually signals an amateur,” Stein says. That said, revision is never easy. But … to improve as a writer, rework must happen.
- Working as if liposuctioning flab in a manuscript, fiction or non-fiction, involves removing the excess so that the resulting work is stronger. Sifting through adjectives and adverbs and eliminating the majority leaves a stronger product, including an improved pace.
- Marking and rewriting sections of narrative into direct action or dialogue can improve the pacing, as well.

In the same way that when I paint with oils on canvas, I keep working the paint until the image I see on canvas matches the image I see in my mind—colors, forms, texture, mood, everything. (One of my paintings, above.) Words, also, can be worked until the resulting piece matches what the writer sees inside.

So, yesterday, when I helped clean the floor beside our youngest son’s bookshelf and discovered in the heap of books an old favorite—The Three Little Pigs—I had a new thought. What if the first draft of a book is like the first little pig’s straw house, the second is like the wooden house, and the third could be compared to the third little pig’s brick house? Brick by brick, word by word, rewrite by rewrite, a stronger book is made. True, the brick house takes much more patience, perseverance, and hard work, but it also becomes something substantial, something that has a better chance at being a book that resonates, something that may last.

Revision is hard work. My hope is for the rework to produce a work that shines.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Little Lagniappe

When we lived in New Orleans, I picked up a word from our N’Awlins native neighbors—lagniappe. Though I haven’t much heard the word used north of Interstate 10, I think the concept is applicable everywhere. Lagniappe is a good thing, loosely defined as an unexpected bonus. Like the baker who slips in an extra cookie with your dozen or the extra encore a band plays at the end of their set, lagniappe is always a good thing, something to make others smile, something to warm cold hearts, something like a little gift. Unexpected. And good.

A smile to greet the scowl, an ear to listen despite a busy schedule, a flower to greet the sunshine, a shimmering moon across water—life and living is filled with lagniappe. Life and living is enriched by giving gifts. How special it feels to receive a present, even a simple one, tied carefully with a bow and given as if time and thought had gone into the gift. Gifts are important. There is nothing like a gift.

Could each day be a gift? Is it possible to think of each day as another opportunity to give of ourselves to those around us and those we love? Because if today is a gift, and if the above statements about giving gifts may be true, then putting time and thought into the day and the gift in the present must be important, as well.

Maybe, with thought and care, each task we go about in every day could become a way of giving of ourselves, of offering lagniappe. Maybe, with consideration on how we interact with others, we could put energy into ensuring the recipient of our time feels as if they have received something more than the end of our ropes—more than a gift shoved into a plastic grocery bag. Perhaps one of my favorite clothing store’s slogans carries truth plastered into the bottom of their shopping bags—“Be the Gift.”

Could it be that we might try to be our best each day, and offer ourselves to the world in which we interact with love? Could we be a gift to those around us? A little taste of lagniappe?

Something once said in encouragement to our children has stuck with me, “Never stop trying to be your very best.” If that could be true for adults even, we could take each day and try to be our very best. The key word is Try. Sure, it’s hard to give of ourselves, and even harder to live to be our very best. But if we try to be our very best, try to give of ourselves to others, try to live today as a gift, then by the merit of trying we have succeeded. Lagniappe.

Gifts are important. There is nothing like a well-given gift, to lift the spirits and to smooth the rough edges of life. Today, we can try to be our very best and offer a little lagniappe to others, to soften the hard edges of these times.
Today is a gift, with plenty of opportunities to give and find lagniappe.

Monday, March 2, 2009

5 Great Ways to Experience Spring

Today as I write, I look outside and see brown. Everywhere brown. There is something about this time of year and the oft-times biting cold and lingering darkness that makes me yearn for the blue skies and green grass of summer. Green. Yes, what I long for is green to come from the brown.

a sweet reminder of Spring, last Spring in our yard

Spring happens to be my favorite season. Not for the wind and rain and cold and dark, but for the newness of it all. Rebirth. The Reawakening of everything brown that brings back the green. The verdant beauty waiting just beneath the surface of the brown sticks and rustling dead leaves. Renewal.

I once heard this: “If we live to be 100 years old, we will have only experienced Spring 100 times” … if we’re paying attention. That quote always brings me back to this season with wide eyes. In only weeks I’ll be looking out at flowers and hummingbirds and butterflies. By the way the deadened world looks now, it seems impossible. But it will come. Something bigger is at work, right before our eyes. Spring.

My life always fills up and brims over with busyness, so unless I am intentional I will miss this rebirth we call Spring. So, to help me remember to watch and be on the lookout for the miracle of Spring, I’m listing 5 Great Ways to Experience Spring. This year, I want to turn my busy days into the grand experience they can be, days that can be savored. Here are five simple ideas:

1. One time each day, pause and look—really look—at the landscape, and note what has changed from the day before.
2. Take a walk through someplace wild—it could be the backyard, or a park, or an open field. Not only see what is around, but feel it as well in fresh smells and popping colors floating on the breeze.
3. Plant some flowers. Pansies are cheery reminders of spring with their colorful faces and sweet disposition, but any flower will do. Try a pot for simplicity’s sake, or take on a more ambitious endeavor, but the process of growing something brings Spring near.
4. Stop and take notice of blooms as they unfurl their splendor for the world, and cut a bouquet to bring indoors. Tulips, daffodils, lily of the valley, peonies, iris … an endless parade of Spring beauties wait outside laden with fragrance to be enjoyed.
5. Pull out the camera and capture a photo or two of a Wow moment—that moment when you see something new and its beauty takes your breath away. Somehow, capturing something through a lens makes the experience richer, into one that can be shared.

Today I am ready for the reawakening of Spring. It is a new month, a new week, and a new day. A new season. I’m ready for the reawakening to occur within me.

This year, Spring arrives as it does every year, pushing out the brown and ushering in the green.
… Only 100 times …