My Muse, My Inspiration

muse of wonderment and writing

I’ve discovered my muse. Her writings inspire me and give me mental motivation in my ability to write these days.  Not only that, she writes about topics and relationships that I have great interest in and have wanted to write about.  The muse is author Jodi Picoult.  You may have read at least one or two of her books if you like women’s fiction.  I wonder if she realizes what an inspiration she is to fellow writers.

The last novel I read of hers was the best.  It’s called House Rules.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. Loved it!

house rules novel cover

Synopsis:

When your son can’t look you in the eye . . . does that mean he’s guilty?

Jacob Hunt is a teen with Asperger’s syndrome. He’s hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, though he is brilliant in many ways. But he has a special focus on one subject—forensic analysis. A police scanner in his room clues him in to crime scenes, and he’s always showing up and telling the cops what to do. And he’s usually right.

But when Jacob’s small hometown is rocked by a terrible murder, law enforcement comes to him. Jacob’s behaviors are hallmark Asperger’s, but they look a lot like guilt to the local police. Suddenly the Hunt family, who only want to fit in, are directly in the spotlight. For Jacob’s mother, Emma, it’s a brutal reminder of the intolerance and misunderstanding that always threaten her family. For his brother, Theo, it’s another indication why nothing is normal because of Jacob.

Any time I read her works, ideas flow from my mind onto the paper freely without constraints, and the writing isn’t half bad.  In fact, it often comes out beautifully!  Kudos that I’ve found my muse, my inspiration for aiding me in my creative writing endeavor.

champagne glasses

But when I’m not reading her, when I’m reading other authors’ books, my creative writing isn’t as rich.

I have heard that depending on the type of writing style and its brilliance or less brilliant form, voice, structure, character development, and flow of whatever authors you read can and will affect how good and creative your own writing will be.  Should I continue reading others’ books and settle for a mediocre spark of creativity? Perhaps I’m learning something else from these authors’ writings than from my muse’s writings, that can help my writing techniques in some way.  I just haven’t discovered what that is yet.  If and when I do, I’ll write a blog post on it.

Therefore, I won’t stop reading other authors’ works that I like.  After all, I do know that my first novel was written before I’d read anything by Picoult, so I know I can accomplish this.  I just need to stay motivated and continue to practice my writing and continue reading the genre in which I am interested and in which I write.  That’s part of being a writer.

idea writing

Incidentally, as I’d written this, new ideas popped into my head on additional dialogue and descriptions (in which I’d turned into written revisions) to my first novel, Passage of Promise.  I’ve been revising and deepening its protagonist, antagonist, and supporting characters’ relationships for the past week so that I can send it back to my editor in a couple weeks to re-edit and give any other suggestions.

Wow.  Who would have thought a blog post on writing abilities via one’s muse and the concerns about lesser creative abilities when not reading their works would lead to ideas sprouting like pea shoots in my head.  I think the creative writing of my muse lingers in my mind like the sweet smell of incense from Orthodox Church services I attend that cling to my clothes and hair, and keeps God in my thoughts for the week.

So, what are the solutions to this struggle of the muse and the lesser inspired readings to aid me in my writing?  Well, I will…

  1. Continue reading works from Picoult.
  2. Take daily walks. They give me peace, spur creative ideas, and nostalgic memories.
  3. Write, if not daily, every other day (I try, people).
  4. Do other creative activities. I’ve read they help spark ideas for your writing.
  5. Try not to worry about losing my writing abilities.  I’ve got to stay steadfast and believe in my writing.  And truly, writing is in me (has been since my childhood) and part of who I am.

Who’s your writing muse that helps inspire you?

 

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What The Hell

Oil-painting-The-Hell-Fresco

If you ask people what hell means to them, you’ll get a variety of answers.

Some people might say it loosely resembles the animated depictions in classic cartoons:

cartoon of hell.jpg

Other people might say it’s a cold place far away from God:

cold dark cave

Then, there are people who think hell is a myth:

myth of hades

Lastly, a few people think Heaven and Hell are one in the same:

bright light

Personally, I see hell as the latter.  Saint Isaac the Syrian (my favorite Saint) describes it beautifully:

“I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. For what is so bitter and vehement as the punishment of love? I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is sharper than any torment that can be. It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God. Love is the offspring of knowledge of the truth which, as is commonly confessed, is given to all. The power of love works in two ways: it torments those who have played the fool, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend; but it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret. But love inebriates the souls of the sons of Heaven by its delectability.”

Why do I choose to see hell in this way?  Because it makes sense to me.  God is through all and in all, and He is a consuming fire.  God is warmth and light.  So, in understanding this, the next step in my thought process is that because of free will given to us by God, we make choices daily and therefore, I choose to follow God or reject Him.  In my decisions, I decide my fate, my own judgment.  I’m the judge of my own destiny.  God honors my choice because He can’t impede on my free will.  He can’t go against Himself, as Father Thomas Hopko of blessed memory would say.

All of this is contingent on whether I truly know God or have just been told or read about Him.

Back to God being a consuming fire.  When I repose this life, I enter into His Light because He’s everywhere.  Nowhere is He not.  And the Light is bright and warm, and it brings me joy and peace if I love Him as best as I was able to truly understand and give love to Him and others.  If I knew Him intimately and chose to sever my relationship with Him, I’d feel His Light and Joy as a burning, tormenting fire.  This is why God revealed He is eternal and why the Apostles speak of those rejecting God as being eternally tormented.  He’s always there.  God loves every human who’s ever lived and will live until His Second Coming.  He wants us to be with Him.  That’s why we were created.

I made a choice to follow Him twenty-three years ago, and I hope to continue to choose Him daily until I pass this earth and am standing before Him.  I hope to hear the glorious words akin to what God told the thief on the cross:  “Truly I tell you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise,” (Lk 23:43) (NIV).

sunshine

 

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The Plague of Cicadas & The Senior Prank

locusts, but will have to use it for the cicada blog post

One of my nightmare scenarios came true yesterday when I read the story out of Florida about the gnarly flying cockroach that crawled into a woman’s ear while she was sleeping, and the grotesque details of the procedure and follow up of the removal of this disgusting bug. I can’t tell you how much I loathe cockroaches and want to vomit every time I see even a picture of them.  Those hellish buggers are one of my phobias. You can read about my encounter with these gross creatures and other creepy crawlies in a previous blog post here. Also, if you’re interested in losing your last meal, you can read the nasty news story I mentioned above here.

After reading and grimacing through that news story, it prompted a memory from my teen years.

It was late spring in 1987 in Fairfax, Virginia, and the year of the horde of the 17-year cicadas. They descended upon my city with the audacity of a shameless celebrity, blanketing tree trunks and back porch screen doors, emitting the most haunting, deafening, echoing tunnel humming I’d ever heard. I was a junior at Robinson Secondary School, which housed 7th-12th graders. The juniors alone were a thousand students that year! The main hall that stretched from one side of the enormous building to the other  spanned the area of a football field, at least that’s what it looked like to my teen eyes. The gym was the size of three regular elementary school gyms. I could go on, but you get the point.

So, I avoided going outside as much as humanly possible to shield myself from the black-bodied, red-eyed creatures drilling me in the head or landing on my shoulder. They were around two inches in length and an inch in width. HUGE, ok? Each day, my mother would drive me and pick me up from school, which was just over a mile away.

17-year cicadas

One afternoon after school when the speckles of sunlight shown through the curtain of cicadas on our back porch’s screen door and their humming had become background din, Mom opened the sliding screen slowly, stepping onto the porch in her button-up, long-sleeved shirt and jeans. She grabbed a pair of bush clippers and disappeared on the right side of the house to trim the hedges. Minutes later, she stepped back inside the den where I sat on the couch, cringing.

“I can’t believe you went out there,” I said.

She smiled, smoothing out invisible wrinkles in her jeans. “It’s fine.”

“The cicadas could have crawled all over you.”

“Naw.  Don’t be silly, Dorothy. You’re overreacting.” Still smiling, she shook her head.

A second later, she said, “Oh!” and bent over, pulling on the collar of her shirt and shaking it, until one of those hard-shelled vermin dropped out from her back onto the floor.

I screamed, “Kill it! Kill it!” I stood up on the sofa, about to have a heart attack at 17.

Mom managed to throw it back outside.

During these horrid weeks, a news report surfaced about a man driving in a truck that was attacked by a legion of cicadas that had flown through the driver’s side window, blocking his view of the road, causing him to veer off the road and crash. It was like something out of a horror flick.

The end of the school year was approaching. I gathered my clothes and backpack in the locker room and then crossed the shiny gym floor toward the doors leading to the main hall. Just before I pushed the doors open, a chorus of screams came from outside the gym. I headed toward the mob scene that was the main hall, which was how it always looked during changing classes. I moved toward the two-story 11th and 12th grade sub school straight ahead with its balcony off the second story 12th grade area that faced the main hall. The screams lessened as I fell into the haphazard flow of kids. A few kids (mostly girls) were yelling that the seniors had dumped cicadas from the balcony onto the juniors below them only a few minutes ago. My heart nearly stopped. I saw the evidence of these ugly creatures flitting about and some lying lifeless on the floor, people crunching them under their sneakers or stepping around them squealing. Relief of missing this death-inducing event washed over me.

Some senior prank. They couldn’t have just TP’d the classrooms or punctured the front lawn with a bunch of plastic forks like the seniors did at the local high school in our town here last year? No nasty bugs, just tedious plucking of utensils from the grass for clean up.

forks in lawn

So the rest of the day, the ugly suckers flew up and down the gaping main hall. One fellow student in Spanish class thought he’d be funny and had placed one of the cicadas on my back without my knowledge, of course.

He said, “Hey, Dorothy.”

I turned around to look at him–a little guy who sat behind me.

“Look,” he said, pointing at my back.

I peered over my shoulder and saw two red beady eyes staring at me. Inside I was freaking out, but I stayed calm on the outside knowing if I freaked out, he’d enjoy that too much and prolong the cicada’s lounging on my back.

“Get it off,” I said calmly, smiling as if I got the joke and didn’t care.

The student and his buddy next to him laughed, and he then removed it.

Obviously, I never forgot that day.

Having seen greenish-colored cicadas here in Pennsylvania in smaller size with “regular” eye color (I just know they weren’t red!), they didn’t look so bad.  In retrospect I feel a bit sorry for those cicadas at my high school. They were brought inside unable to do their mating, which is why they had dug themselves out of the ground after 17 years. They had no food sources and died by the next day. I never thought I’d see the day when I’d feel sorry for these bugs, but I do now. Ah, how your perspective changes some thirty years later. 🙂

 

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Literary Humanness

books and flowers

The literary package—reading, writing, and analyzing literature—is quite crucial in the life of not only a writer, but also a reader and a student studying to become a good fiction writer (or creative non-fiction, screenwriter, etc.).  When we authors write our creative fiction works, it is a sole project in which we delve into our own minds filled with images, ideas, strings of words and sentences, and the bellowing of our carved-out characters.  But in essence, once our work is out there in print and ebook, we connect with the readers, and ultimately humanity.

In writing my stories, I’ve always been drawn to human emotions, the human condition, and the light of hope, to which I weave into my creative works.  Creating fictional characters’ journeys in dealing with real life issues, their relationships with others, and how they get through conflicts and come to discovery and resolution, is something every human being can relate to because we’ve all gone through difficulties, joys, and sorrows in our lives.

renoir dance pic

(Renoir’s Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette)

I don’t have a high self-esteem or much confidence in myself, even with the recent accomplishments in my writing this year. I still wonder if my writing is good enough.  But with all the things I’ve learned, it has only taught me I still have more to learn and that it is an ongoing process that will probably continue throughout the rest of my writing life.

Analyzing and reading the classic and modern stories I’ve read in World Literature, Fiction Writing Workshop, Intro to Creative Writing, Shakespeare, Romantic Literature, Nonfiction Writing Workshop, and most recently, British Literature, have helped me in structuring my novels in the proper manner for the character arc, and appreciate a deeper understanding of the characters.  Delving deeper into the characters revealed the utter humanness of them, their flawed selves, broken and fragile, and I think how brilliant the authors were in creating such compelling characters and their stories.  For example, the most recent paper I wrote was on Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein. The character of Victor Frankenstein depicts clearly the brokenness of human beings.  And through Frankenstein’s and other fictional characters’ choices they make, cause either joy or sorrow and success or ruin for them.

frankenstein outside darkness

Literature also helps us to understand people who have different perspectives than our own, by stepping into these characters’ minds, lives, cultures, watching them deal with their bad habits, and struggles with relating to others.

Having relationships with others makes us truly human. And I believe that’s really the central struggle and most difficult endeavor for many human beings (me for sure!  Introvert here) in this life.  Generally speaking, it’s easier for us to have relationships with and love our pets than other people.  But it is through communion with other people that we become whole.

It is my hope that my writing touches the hearts of my readers (hopefully I’ll have some when my books are published!) and that they feel inspired and satisfied when they are done reading my works.

In wrapping up this blog post, I wish and pray for continued striving and success for all of us writers because writing is one hundred times harder than we thought when we first started out in the craft.

 

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Remembering Dad’s Wit

On April 29, 2012, Dad reposed.  After several strokes, the last one being massive, and in between the last two, pneumonia, Dad didn’t recover, but became unresponsive and on a ventilator to breathe.  The doctor had told Mom and my sister, Mary, that he couldn’t breathe without it.  Via phone conversations, Mary and I came to the painful decision that we needed to let him go and leave it in God’s hands, so to speak. We made this decision before Mom did, which was understandable.  But eventually she agreed.  The ventilator was removed around four in the afternoon on April 29, 2012, and Dad left this life seven hours later.  I was back at parents’ house with my sons when he departed.  I got the call from Mom a few minutes before Mary and my husband, Troy, got to parents’ house after leaving Mom at the hospital.  Seven hours later…Seven…I’d thought about this when I told my sister he’d reposed and thought “Seven, the number for completion,” Biblically speaking in our Orthodox Christian faith.  It’s odd sometimes what you think of in such sorrowful and painful moments in your life.

So, in memory of Dad for the 29th, I’m sharing something funny and dear to my mom, sister, and I:  Many Sayings of My Dad.  He was a 30-year Air Force Colonel lawyer and judge, and was/is a loving, encouraging, and gentle father with a great dry sense of humor.  So, here are the list of my dad’s common sayings:

“Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?”

“Back when the earth’s crust was cooling…” – talking about the age in which he grew up.

“Back when the dinosaurs were still roaming the earth….” talking about the age in which he grew up.

While playing poker, Dad would say many things while dealing to us:  (dealing to first person) “Three 4s,” (dealing next person) “Pair of queens,” (dealing to the next person which they don’t get anything) “Paregoric.”

Again, dealing cards during poker to us:  “Possible straight,” (next person) “Possible flush,” (next person with nothing) “Possible nothing.”

When it’s somebody else’s turn to deal or it’s their turn in one of our board games.  “It’s all urine, pee pee!” 

When something was really gross or disgusting:  “It’s enough to make a buzzard puke.”

Watching some sport like baseball or football and the players are running to catch the ball:  “I got it!  I got it!  You take it!”

When someone would sleep in late:  “Ah, the dead has arisen!”

When dad would be leaving to go to work usually (and my husband has adopted this):  “I’m off in a cloud of sheep dung!”

I would tease dad when I was a young teenager and not speak correctly by saying something like “I ain’t got none,” for which he’d reply:  “That’s a double negative, so really you do have something.” 

Teasing mom when speaking the Greek words “ti kanis, kala?” ( τι κανεις καλα,  which means, “how are you? well?”), he’d say it like this:  “Tea canister, collapse?”

When Dad wasn’t feeling well way back when he worked in the Air Force, some of his coworkers were urging him about some work that needed to be done and that he needed to be there.  He said, telling this to a friend I believe it was:  “I’ll have the hearse pick me up on the way there.” 

“Everyone has the right to be stupid, but he abuses the privilege.”

“Take all you want, but eat all you take!”

“It’s a phenomenon of nature” – when Mary asked him “why” and he didn’t know

When someone would be leaving the table, or needing to say “excuse me” or “pardon me” for something, Dad’s reply would be “Granted.”

Back in the mid 1990’s when Mom, Dad, and I came down to LA to visit my sister and stayed at her house, both my sister and I had bad coughs from colds/allergies/sinusitis stuff.  After listening to our barking coughs for a while, he said, “Sounds like a TB ward in here.” 

“Ah, I see, said the blind man.”

His favorite words for telling me or both my sister and I when arguing in the back seat of the car to be quiet were “Cork it.”

“He is as full of crap as a Christmas goose.”

Dad would always help me with my homework, even all the way through high school.  I was kind of a struggling student–three quarters lazy, one quarter comprehensive problems.  So, I was whining over some report I was working on that he was helping me with because he had told me something I would need to do in addition to what resources I’d collected.  When I whined, he said, “Ah, yes.  We couldn’t go and look up that information and work on bibliography cards…That would be too much like… *Gasp* … WORK!” 

Mom said Dad was a walking encyclopedia, and on rare occasions, we’d ask him a word, and he’d say, “I know all, except that one.” 

He’d also throw this word at us every now and again and ask us to spell it or ask what it meant or something like that: “Anti-disetablishmentarinism.” 

“Take a long walk off a short pier!” 

“All in good time.”

On the road stopped at a light that is green for more than a few seconds.  He’d say to the person in front of him: “It’s as green as it gets!” 

“What is on your alleged mind?” 

“Once again, I am the screwee.”  

Mary said:  Me, loading up everything I can carry at once so I don’t have to make 2 trips…Dad: “Aaahhh….The lazy man’s load.” 

“To err is human, to forgive is divine.  Neither, however, is SAC policy.” – Contributed by Dad’s good friend, Doug Chandler

“Dad, I want to go to my friend’s house”…Dad’s response:  “Denied!” which was rare.

“Suck in that gut!  You’re in the marine corps now!”

“but Daaaddd, I really want to go to so and so’s house!” Dad: “Yes, and people in hell want ice water.” 

Dad’s endearing nicknames for me from earliest age to adulthood:  “My little flower,” “Dorothy of Porothy,” and “The Dotmeister.”

 

Love you, Dad.  You’re always near me.  I feel your presence often.  Until we meet again. ❤

 

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Writer Vs. Inner Critic

silencing inner critic

Sweating with anxiety, I stepped into the familiar and dangerous ring of my mind, ready with padded gloves on.  My inner critic had a fast voice that knew how to bob and weave through my brain, punching out negative remarks in all the recesses of my gray matter.  It managed to paralyze the use of my left hand (yes, I’m a leftie), and rendered my pencil useless, until it had me flat out on the cushiony floor of the right side of my brain, gasping for creativity, ideas, any words at all.  But none would formulate in my brain before I was hit by another, “That’s not good enough.”  And this melee continued for several days.

This massive struggle was all over a first draft’s middle chapters.  Oh, those dreaded scenes.  What could be worse than trying to carry on your story twenty chapters in when everything you write looks like and feels like total crap?  The beginning started with such gusto and imagination and flair.  But now, like the plummeting of a meteor to earth, the haunting middle chapters had crushed my creative endeavor.  The last fizzle of ingenuity faded into the realm of unconsciousness.

open written notebook on desk

I came to just before the count of ten and rolled onto my side, huffing as I tried to lift myself.  My body slowly obeyed, as I worked hard to produce words.  The inner critic had the energy of ten people. As soon as I had gotten to my hands and knees, it rammed into me with a triple dose of “Your writing sucks.”  I lurched and collapsed onto my side.

But I wasn’t giving up.

With new clear determination, I decided to read over the pages I’d managed to write before this battle.  The words connected, weaved together in a coherent manner.  I grabbed the pencil next to my body, scrambled to my feet, and with a sharp inhale and swing of my hand wielding the pencil, I erased the words of the inner critic.  The inner critic’s voice attempted again to try and embed more of its toxic language into my brain.  But this time, with gained strength and confidence, I shouted, “Hey!  This is a first draft!” and kicked its foul castigations out of my head.

kicking something away

It scurried away, whimpering and mumbling, but I knew it would be back soon, too soon.  I would have to keep vigilant.  I hung my gloves on the wall of my brain, and with my right hand, grabbed a towel and wiped the sweat from my brow, and with my left hand that still had the pencil in its grasp, I started writing the next chapter, one that would not haunt me but would submit to my writing freely.  At least I hoped so.

 

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What You Learn When Writing About Yourself

finding peace

When I began to write again in September 2014, the first story I attempted to write and did not finish was a fictional piece where the main character was loosely based on me and my life experiences.  In doing this, I found that some of the events from my dating and romantic relationships in my early twenties weren’t what I’d always thought they were.

As I wrote scenes in which my main character reacted to the boyfriends and men in which she had crushes, this became apparent to me, especially for one intense relationship I had.  I’d spent twenty-five years seeing it all through my perspective and believing I’d been wronged and the guy was a jerk.  As if everything I did was wonderfully good and considerate and his was absolutely bad and apathetic.  Not so.

This narrow view expanded to a more balanced and clearer picture.  It was a bit of an epiphany . . . a painful and stunning discovery, mixed with regret and shame, in which I’d been so self-absorbed only caring about my own feelings and never considering or understanding his.  Now, it’s true this one boyfriend didn’t volunteer any of his deep, personal feelings with me, so I wouldn’t, couldn’t have known.  But twenty-five years later, it’s quite evident that there were problems that neither of us knew how to deal with and didn’t have the knowledge and relationship tools in which to figure it all out.

This first writing endeavor truly turned the mirror on me and my behavior in my early twenties, for which I’d been selfish, naive, and clueless.  But writing what I did brought about a catharsis for which my past hurts and whatever disgruntled feelings or misunderstandings and frustrations I’d felt so strongly then dissipated and resolved four years ago, leaving me with a sense of understanding and peace within me.

Having experienced this, I wonder if this happens to other writers, especially those who write memoirs.  Writing truly is an outlet to self-discovery and catharsis.

 

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