Monday, August 13, 2007


One Writer’s Tap Dance

Eight nimble fingertips strike and click across a black keyboard like tap dancers gracing a stage. My right thumb directs dramatic pauses between steps; my other one hovers in mid air for team balance. Everyone synchronizes in swift form, gliding and tapping to a silent rhythm from my writer’s mind and heart’s pulse. I drill them ever onward, without rest stops or stretch breaks, until I see completion of the basic form. Awkward maneuvers wait for repairs following our first dry run. We ignore aches, sores, and missteps through the first draft of our dance. Once our rehearsal records onto the white screen, I allow time to rest and revise.

My tap dance requires additional hardware from a computer and monitor. Without them, I couldn’t create my work in due time. I’d have to revert back to pen and paper, and that would feel like the dance of death.

The light that radiates from the monitor illuminates my mind, and yet it almost blinds me after long hours of intense focus. Over time I squint to create. But the bright light provides the white-yang backdrop for my dance on the black-yin stage. They coincide.

At front-and-center stage I sit in my choreographer’s chair where dance sounds echo off the ceiling and nearby walls. Their melodic milieu maintain pace with my moods and feelings. I avoid negative ones like anger and disgust, as they ignite irregular fiery forms from fierce taps that could please no one. Likewise, fear and sadness stifle my dancers’ abilities to execute completely smooth moves. Of course, my most talented productions blossom during upbeat emotions. Affection and delight spark professional soft shoes. Feelings of pride further pump up my tappers for our most excellent performances, even when the work involves ad lib.

Following a sound night’s sleep, I call back my dancers for another session. We work under a creative process contract, which involves numerous practice-to-polish sessions. With mental notes as well as scribbled ones, I instruct new key taps in certain places, a few deletions in other spots, or revised sequences to replace any rough patches. We work toward a natural flow of motions and tempo.

All the hard work bestows wings to my smile as I approach the end of our composition. Overall, I trust my dancers’ skills and my creative mind to weave and flow the sequences together like an English Shuffle. Once we practice and revise several times, I deem our work prepared for public scrutiny.

At times I print my dance as black-yin art on white-yang paper to send it by post. Other times, however, my work crosses over the electronic freeway. Either way it endures evaluations before finding its top theater.

At the end of my final production I hear applause.

“Tappers,” I say, “take a bow and stretch, you’ve danced well today!”

I’m grateful for my fingers’ grace; they serve me well, unlike my two gorilla feet.


I once submitted this essay to a descriptive competition that centered on any of the arts. I didn’t win or place in the contest, but I still like my piece. I revise it from time to time, hopefully making it better.

How would you write a 500-word descriptive essay regarding writing? Weave your own tapestry and, if no contests apply, consider posting it on our Blog. It makes for great writing practice!

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Monday, August 06, 2007


Flexing a Writer’s Perspectives

Every classroom of writing students requires flexible group dynamics. Teaching, in general, requires an open-minded ability to facilitate learning for all personality-types and individuals of diverse backgrounds, including gender, job experience, lifestyle, age (meaning life-experience skills, in this sense). College instructors, secondary school teachers, and all teachers certainly need energy to teach any subject to all students.

The best memories from my college English composition course lessons linger from my students’ diverse perspectives and the infinite number of ways each one could perceive the same subject. When I taught three courses with thirty-five students per class, and I used the same writing exercises for each one, I came away with 105 different writing perspectives.

Two of my favorite exercises involved teaching description, how to look for it, and how to write it down on paper so readers could sense objects and subjects through the writer’s eyes, ears, nose, taste buds, and finger tips, or whichever senses applied. Of course, this involved teaching how to be aware of one’s sensory perceptions and how to capture them on paper. For example, I’d used one of Annie Dillard’s passages from “Death of a Moth” to illustrate the use of details. Here it is:

“One night a moth flew into the candle, was caught, burnt dry and held. I must have been staring at the candle, or maybe I looked up when a shadow crossed my page; at any rate, I saw it all. A golden female moth, a biggish one with a two-inch wingspread, flapped into the fire, dropped abdomen into the wet wax, stuck, flamed, and frazzled, in a second. Her moving wings ignited like tissue paper, like angels’ wings, enlarging the circle of light in the clearing and creating out of the darkness the sudden blue sleeves of my sweater, the green leaves of jewelweed by my side, the ragged red trunk of a pine; at once the light contracted again and the moth’s wings vanished in a fine, foul smoke. At the same time, her six legs clawed, curled, blackened, and ceased, disappearing utterly. And her head jerked in spasms, making a spattering noise; her antennae crisped and burnt away and her heaving mouthparts cracked like pistol fire. When it was all over, her head was, so far as I could determine, gone, gone the long way of her wings and legs. Her head was a hole lost to time. All that was left was the flowing horn shell of her abdomen and thorax--fraying, partially collapsed gold tube jammed upright in the candle’s round pool.”

In the previous passage, I’d asked my students to consider the following questions:

1. How many abstractions do you find in the passage?
2. How many specific and concrete terms are there?
3. How does Dillard achieve startling precision and grace?

I’d provided more questions for my students, but this is just a sample. By examining Dillard’s perspective, students had a clear example from which they could practice their own writing.

Another exercise to push students beyond the day-to-day “thought box” included particular 3-D images or optical illusions.

A great place to go for practice is the Third Side Perspective.

As students decided on their perspectives, on various pictures like those provided at the Third Side, I asked them to write a descriptive passage as detailed as possible. These exercises enabled students to approach writing from a reader’s perspective and learn how to apply their senses like Dillard. They had to think about how to “show” their subjects for readers.

For instance, when you glance at the picture atop this Blog, what do you see? Of course, you might see one of two images, or both: an old lady and/or a young woman. How would you describe the picture provided here?

These exercises can work for anyone. Our perspectives can be captured on paper or on a blank screen for others to see, hear, touch, taste, or feel. We need only think outside ourselves.

How do you flex your perspective or practice drawing pictures and scenes with words?

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Monday, July 30, 2007


Got Attitude?

I’d like to think my writing evolves in spirit, soul, kindness, and wisdom as I age. Wouldn’t that be nice if it were that easy? Just age and improve like the often-clichéd fine wine!

But it’s just when I’m feeling a little smug that I fall back into the over-forty sticky web of complaining and nit-picking. I tease my 80-year-old mom that she’s always complaining (and she knows she does it and chastises herself for it). But why do I do it? It certainly doesn’t help my writing. Who wants to read someone complaining about a stress-invoking vacation or kids’ arguments? I mean, at least I have a place to vacation and kids who are capable of arguing. Plus, for the first time in twenty years of marriage, we’re actually going on our second vacation in the same year. Whoa! That should make me smile.

Maybe my attitude needs readjustments. Well, not maybe, but definitely. I’m losing grip with my gratitude-attitude. I need to make sure my vacation resets my outlook. What about you?

We Americans don’t take enough time off. But it’s really foolish. Vacations can be anything or anywhere that take us away from our normal, daily grind, whether we work from home at a job, as a mother, as a writer, or in an office elsewhere. No matter the time involved, either; work will always be there when we return.

While you’re reading this, I’m vacationing in South Lake Tahoe, California, tent camping with about a hundred of my husband’s relatives. The vacation gathering is for a family reunion that happens only every five years. I should be grateful to get away and join a crowd of happy campers! The funny side note is that my husband asked me to bring my laptop along, so he’d have a partner-in-crime, a person to dash away with from the campground, lakeside, and boats, to find a Wi-fi coffee shop from where he could stay linked to his career stresses.

I must confess, I did think about it. But my final response was, “no, I’m not taking my laptop along; that would go against the grain of balance, and you shouldn’t bring yours along either.” But he’s rarely lived a day without his cell phone, gadgets, or laptop near his body, as if it’s a lifeline.

Why do we tend to do this? Too much work and not enough play forces hard-working people to weave nasty webs of complaints, negative thoughts, and ungrateful feelings. I don’t want to be this way. It doesn’t improve my writing.

What is a lifeline for your writing or your attitude? Do notice when you complain too much? Do you notice when the smallest parts of life that should bring you pleasure, instead leave you feeling down or knotted up? Do you need to get away?

I intend to return from camping with fresh ideas for stories for children and teens; maybe I’ll steal away a few moments in the tent with a pen and pad and actually “write away my sticky web of complaints” while smelling the pine trees, the dry earth, campfire and soot. S’mores, roasted marshmallows, and trail mix sound so different and delicious, along with some fattening hot dogs, beans, and all foods other than spinach salads and light dishes.

When was the last time you took time away? Even only a weekend? You deserve to at least pencil it in on your calendar. But don’t take your gadgets for work. Take only your attitude. If you find yourself laughing at this in an ironic sense, as if there’s no possible way to take time off, then you should write off your stress in some fashion.

Please let us know about your writing lifelines, lack of vacations, or actual vacations. If you take plenty of vacations, instead, then we could live vicariously through you! Or tell us how you manage to keep a grateful outlook in life.

The bottom line is that we want you, your Blogs, your words, your attitude! Speak Out is every Friday here at WOW! Don’t hesitate.

Sue ;-)

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