And so, it has been. And so, too, it will remain. Through my life, unto death, and for the unfurling of eons beyond. Rainier, vast and massive observer of fidelity and betrayals; of sprigs and blooms; of the lives of things so small and ephemeral that you could argue their existence at all.
Rainier, bearing witness to the evolution of man and every element of the human condition. Diffident to joy. Indifferent to sadness. Stoic to what it has inspired in the hearts of anyone who from the fields of its foothills have gazed upon its vermiculate pattern of inscriptions, carved from the hands of God, Himself.
Remember me, Rainier, when I am gone.
Last week, while in San Francisco for a writers conference, I was walking with my young daughter on Geary Street near Mason, not far from Union Square, when I noticed him: a towering, disheveled member of the city’s vast legion of homeless people, keeping pace behind me.
I deliberately altered my pace—already considerably slower than the rest of the people who were streaming past since I was holding the hand of my toddler—to let him pass. But instead of disappearing into the upstream swim of pedestrians, he slowed, too.
Angling myself to keep him in my periphery, I took him in: 6’4, solidly built, and dressed in a green zippered hoodie with bulging front pockets. With eyes that darted around as if they were tracking an invisible swarm of bees in front of his face, he mimicked my movements. When I walked on, he followed. When I slowed down, he did too. I crossed the street and sure enough, he was right there behind me. It was only when I had stopped completely—pretending to point out something of interest in a store window to my daughter—that he finally seemed to have disappeared. Believing my new unwanted friend to have slipped back into the anonymous flow of pedestrians, I stopped briefly into a Starbucks to buy my daughter a promised hot chocolate before continuing on to Union Square.
Living in Seattle, there’s nothing like a warm, cloudless California day to flush the rainy Pacific Northwest gloom from the system. There was an art fair happening in Union Square, and my daughter and I decided to camp out on the steps in the plaza and soak it all in. But we’re only there a few minutes when I felt a presence behind me. I turned around to find our stalker hovering over us. I sprang to my feet, placing myself between him and my daughter and asked him what the fuck he wanted.
“What do YOU want?” he hissed. His posture changed, and he became aggressive, the ambiguity of his intentions dissolving before my eyes. He was no longer following invisible swarming bugs but was instead focused directly on me. At one point I kicked over my coffee and he laughed sinisterly. Then, looking at my daughter, he asked me if she belonged to me. He actually used the word belong. I looked over to where two women were sitting nearby.
“Excuse me,” I called out to them. “Can you take my daughter for me?” The women only made brief eye contact with me before quickly looking away. A man walking past pretended to be oblivious to what was happening. As a former cop, I’d been in enough fights with the mentally ill and drug-addled to know that I’m outmatched. When you’re psychotic or drugged out of your gourd, the pain is muted. Reason is fleeting. And to top things off, I’d been struggling with my self-confidence all morning ever since it had been pointed out to me that oily White House hopeful and Boston Strangler-lookalike Ted Cruz owned a red-checkered button-down shirt just like the one I was wearing at the moment.
By now, my aggressor was making quick, jerky, jumpy motions toward me like he was about to hit me. He was standing in an elevated position over me and the way I saw it, I could either keep standing there and wait for him to kick me in the head, or I could act now, drag his legs out from under him before he could react and start smashing his head into the concrete.
Just as a physical attack—one way or the other—seemed inevitable, the guy abruptly stood down. As I maneuvered myself up to where he was standing, he slinked away and ran off. Within moments a uniformed Union Square security officer appeared and asked if I was okay. I explained what happened—that the guy had been stalking my daughter and I for blocks—and he took off after him.
When it was all over, I glanced around at the people who were seated nearby when all of this was happening. Whether out of guilt or out of fear, not a single one will make eye contact with me. At some point, the women I had implored to safeguard my daughter have crept away from the scene altogether when I wasn’t looking.
In every plan I was making to do great bodily harm to my would-be attacker in defense of both my daughter and myself, I failed to take the good ol’ bystander effect into consideration. I should have known that rather than have someone do me a favor by safely removing my daughter from the danger at hand, we stood a better chance of having our beating deaths idly filmed by a couple dozen people with their cell phones.
Like it has in Seattle, the lax regulatory policies on homelessness in San Francisco have created a crisis for the city. In both cities, and others like them, the drug culture, mild climate, liberal approach to social services and high cost of housing has created a favorable atmosphere for the homeless. In Seattle; a 100-acre expanse of greenbelt beneath a section of the city’s I-5 freeway known as the “Jungle” has been turned into an encampment of homelessness and crime (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/02/05/3-boys-charged-with-jungle-murders-were-collecting-moms-drug-debt-cops-say/).
Since the incident, I’ve been reading up on aggressive panhandlers and learned that I may very well have been the target of a “soft mugging”; an extortion-like tactic where a panhandler will essentially stalk and follow a target menacingly until the target pays him to go away. In all my experiences with homeless people and/or panhandlers, this guy was undoubtedly the exception, for in all the number of times I’ve been hit up for cash on by panhandlers, I’ve never been straight up menaced.
I’m not going to pretend to be ignorant to the complexity of issues that ties into homelessness in America. Arguably, better access to mental health treatment and drug abuse intervention would be a great place to start, but I’ll leave the dissection of that social issue to the experts. For this is intended as a cautionary tale.
The radioactive decay of my Flint, Michigan upbringing had no sooner reached its half-life, you might say. I dress more conservatively these days. I’m not as grumpy as I used to be. And on a few occasions, I’ve even caught myself believing that most people are inherently good. But the incident in San Francisco has derailed me from my Doodles Weaver complacency. It’s a fact: we’re a hypocritical society; one that bemoans the changing mores of social decency while being gleeful consumers of its modality. While waiting for a New York City train in 2012, 58 year-old Ki Suk Han was pushed onto the tracks of the subway by a deranged homeless man named Naeem Davis. As the train was bearing down on him, Han’s last images weren’t of helpful bystanders scrambling in vain to pull him to safety, but rather the incessant flashing of a New York Post’s photographer’s camera capturing his final moments of life (http://nypost.com/2012/12/04/suspect-confesses-in-pushing-death-of-queens-dad-in-times-square-subway-station/).
So, you see, it’s important to keep in mind that even when surrounded by throngs of friendly bystanders, you shouldn’t rely on anyone to come to your aid when you’re being pummeled to death for the five bucks you have in your wallet.
You’d be better advised to just smile for the cameras.
It was 1993, and the name Lorena Bobbitt single-handedly drove the sales of flower bouquets through the roof. Sultry alligator wrestler-turned-attorney general Janet Reno ordered the deadly raid on the Branch Davidian Religious Sect in Waco, Texas. And the whirring, humming automated residential housing algorithms of Michigan State University matched me up with a snag-toothed, pumpkin-headed man-child from suburban Detroit named Mark (for legal, moral and humanitarian reasons, I won’t print his last name here but I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes quite symmetrically with oh, smell…).
When I wasn’t knocking over the soda bottles of chew juice he’d left strewn about our floor, or dry-heaving from the rancid, composting piles of soiled clothes he’d leave lying out on his squalid mattress, I was flushing the gurgling mallow he’d left in the toilet or splashing away the dried toothpaste spittle from the sink basin. One night, over a few rounds of Trivial Pursuit in the study room with some other guys from our floor, Mark excused himself. When he returned, he had with him an unassuming shoebox that he set out onto the table in front of everyone. Without uttering a word, he lifted the lid, revealing a Christmas-colored, loaf-sized mound of what looked like fermented moss.
“It’s my booger brick,” he said. Quickly shoving ourselves back from the table, we listened as Mark went on to explain with listless sentimentality that what had begun innocently enough as a few, leisurely booger-wipes against a square of spare cardboard at around age twelve became a lifelong craft he would dedicate himself to building upon, one glistening little mucus-y glob at a time. To the rest of us, he may as well have displayed a severed human head and it was at that moment that I decided Mark was just off enough that I could no longer tolerate living with him and would pay the extra cash for a single room for the remainder of the year. Even though Mark was an extreme case, I pretty much decided from that point on to paint all potential roommates—no, all people, in general—with the same germ-covered brush as gross and vile…and this isn’t even accounting for those who think grossness should have some sort of redemptive artistic value.
On November 10, city officials in Seattle steam-blasted the city’s Gum Wall; a 50-foot long corridor of brick in Post Alley near the city’s famed Pike Place Market. While standing impatiently in the long lines for a local improv theater to open back in 1993, tactless patrons began pressing their wads of chewed-up gum to the alley’s walls.
Proving that we live in a vast and diverse world that allows people to be idiots in entirely different ways, the trend caught on. Throngs of germy hippies from around the Pacific Northwest turned out in throngs to leave their own microbial contributions to the wall, leaving a germy, gummy glob of messages, mosaics and various slogans of the cause du jour that would ultimately stretch 50 feet long, 15 feet high, become several inches thick, and weigh a total of 2,350 lbs.
Feeling sick yet?
Considered among the five germiest tourist attractions of 2009 (second only to the Blarney Stone), according to TripAdvisor, it appeared as if the wall’s grody history would be effaced for good. But within hours of having been scrubbed clean, guerilla artists pressed a sugarless rendering of the Eiffel Tower into the wall in the wake of the Paris attacks.
In the popular imagination, art is one of those things that comes about as the product of a diverse range of human activities usually involving imaginative or technical skill. I guess in that sense, whether Seattle’s gum wall conveys some imaginative and workable canvass for artistic expression is still up for debate. Although, if you’re willing to buy that, then I’ve got some used toilet paper to sell you…just think of them as Rorschach imprints.
Guest Post by Jo Linsdell
Author Jo Lindell presents advice on preparing for the November Writing Challenges
Just as the calendar year winds down, three November writing challenges help writers jump-start their creativity. You can choose between NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), WNFIN (Write Nonfiction in November) aka NaNonFiWritMo (National Nonfiction Writing Month), and PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month).
Not everyone, it turns out, is choosing just one. Guest poster Jo Linsdell, of WritersandAuthors.info and organizer of the annual online PromoDay event plans to do all three. She takes “plans” literally, so we’ve asked her to share how she preps to “put a jet pack” on her productivity.
Even if you’re “just” doing one challenge, or partially participating, you can learn from her attitude and pre-challenge tactics.
I love a good challenge. I’ve never been one to do things lightly though. I have a go big attitude when it comes to setting goals for myself, and this year is no different. I’ll be taking part in, not one, but three different challenges this November. I’ll be doing NaNoWriMo, WNFIN, and PiBoIdMo.
Right now you’re probably asking yourself “Is she crazy?!” The honest answer here is probably “YES”.
As I have two small children, work part-time as a teacher, have several blogs, and have various events to attend throughout the month, it’s a huge goal to try to reach.
A 50K novel, a non-fiction book, and 30 ideas for children’s picture books, all in the one month is a LOT of work. It is doable though.
How do I know?
Simple. I’ve done it before. And yes, I collected my winner certificates 😉
Preparing for the November Writing Challenges
So how does someone prepare for such a writing frenzy?
The key is organization, and preparation.
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)
The first thing to do is pick and idea. In my case, the idea usually picks me—I tend to have an over-active imagination. I go with the one that I think about most. When it takes over and starts to build itself in my head, I know it’s the right one to go with.
Next I brainstorm and work out a plot outline. Nothing too detailed, but enough to give me a basic timeline of events to get me from start to finish. As I do the outline, the main characters usually already start to define themselves. They develop personalities.
The next step is writing up a quick character sheet (click for free download) for each of them. Again nothing too detailed. Part of the fun is seeing where the characters take me.
Finally, I like to create a draft cover for the novel. It makes the book seem real. Envisioning it as a final product can be very motivating.
WNFIN (Write Nonfiction in November)
The first thing to do is to pick an idea and brainstorm on it to make sure it’s enough to become a book. This is important because some ideas are better suited to being blog posts, or a short series of blog posts, than a book.
Once I’m sure I have enough material to work with, I expand my brainstorming into a rough table of contents. This way I know the structure the book will take and what I need to write in each section.
If there are any parts I need to research further I do that next. Things like looking for quotes to include also fall into this category. These are all saved to a word file called WNFIN prep on my computer. I can then hop over to it as needed during the challenge.
I use a template with includes title page and other front matter, the table of contents, and pre-formatted chapter lay out. This saves me loads of time later on and helps me see the book as a finished product as I’m writing it. That way I just have to write the book.
As I do with NaNoWriMo, I also make a draft cover for WNFIN, for the same reasons.
PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month)
I’ve participated in this challenge for several years now and each time I go over the 30 idea goal. Having two small children around is an endless font of inspiration!
The only preparation I do for this challenge is to make an idea sheet (click to download) where I’ll track the number of ideas I get throughout the month.
So what about the non-writing related prep for the November Writing Challenges?
Yes, that’s just as important. Actually, it’s even more important than the rest of it.
If you’re going to be in a writing frenzy for 30 days you need to make sure you have a plan of action.
When will you write? Can you fit in big blocks of time on some days? Or will you be doing word sprints for the whole month? I tend to have a mix of these. I try to get bigger chunks done whilst the kids are at school in the morning as this is usually when I have more free time. I then word sprint through out the day where possible..
Where will you write? Find the best place for you to take on the November Writing Challenges. I work best from my home. I try to limit these interruptions is by telling everyone I’ll be doing these challenges and warning them that if they interrupt me for silly reasons they are likely to be turned into a character in my NaNoWriMo novel and then killed off. I’m writing a thriller this year 😉
I also plan food in advance. I do a big food shop the last day of October so I’m nicely stocked up with healthy, and easy to prepare food. Supplies of tea, coffee, and hot chocolate are musts, as are chocolate bars, and fruit for snacking.
In the last days of October, I make sure all the washing and ironing is up to date, and give the house a deep clean. This makes it easier to stay on top of housework throughout the month. I also prepare a few activities for the kids to do should I need to keep them busy.
That’s it really. Get as prepared and organized as possible before the challenges start.
If you’re taking part in any of the November Writing Challenges, tweet me a shout at www.twitter.com/JoLinsdell. I’ll be doing lots of word sprints throughout the month. Maybe you can join me for some?
Jo Linsdell is an award-winning, and international best-selling author and illustrator. She is also the CEO of www.WritersandAuthors.info. For more information about her and her projects, visit www.JoLinsdell.com.
As part of The National Day On Writing, via the #WhyIWrite Twitter meme, writers express why they’re willing—even anxious—to confront empty pages. Fellow writers’ 140 –character insight into what drives them makes inspiring, thought-provoking reading.
You’ll notice that very few of the #WhyIWrite tweets mention readers—particularly not the need to attract them. Which makes me think there’s a disconnect between what motivates us to be a writer and what we actually write about.
Is there a disconnect between why you write about what you write and what made you want to write in the first place?
To succeed—whatever that may mean to each of us—experts tell us repeatedly that we need a winning concept. We also have to develop the ability to sell that concept. Which can lead us down a convoluted path of writing which has nothing whatsoever to do with what made us want to become a writer.
Why I write morphs into the more difficult to articulate, Why I write what I write.
Why I write what I write?
It’s not an easily contemplated question. Ideally, the same answer would apply to why you write, why you wanted to write in the first place, and why you write what you write.
Reality, for most of us, conjures a more complicated landscape. Many came into the field hoping to change the world with our words. We dreamed of our story taking root in hearts across the world, making it a better place, even if only infinitesimally so.
Some of us were driven by the need to create, but no one is paying for virgin creative juice. Like club soda on grocery store shelves, creative juice gets relegated to the mixer aisle instead of the main beverage aisle. Creativity’s market is dependent on bundling it with a trendier product, the ubiquitous yet damnably ethereal “winning concept.”
The problem with some of those winning concept beverages is that they’re not heart healthy. Perhaps that’s why blogging is so hard for many “emerging” authors. We’re blogging to build (or reinforce) our platform, but platform building ranks pretty low on our list of things we’re passionate about.
Even if I knew it, I couldn’t provide anyone with the right completion to ”Why I write what I write.” That answer comes from introspection. Despite all the “unleashing the stories in my head” responses that we read, it’s not usually that simple. Few of us have complete stories that are simply waiting for a romp off-leash. We’re creating, massaging, molding and editing for a reason. Perhaps it’s a personal one, such as understanding history or processing internal emotional turmoil. Perhaps it’s a need to inspire or to provide a glimpse of an alternative reality. Perhaps that reason hasn’t yet made itself clear.
But it’s a question worth asking, even if it doesn’t change anything that you do. The better we understand our inner workings, the higher the likelihood that we’ll be able to change gears if an attractive turn in the road presents itself.
You know, that road less written.
Try wearing one of these! If you’re like me, You’ll find that speaking can make you a better writer.
Want to become a better writer? Try speaking.
Speakers, of course, often go about things differently than writers when communicating. However, the more public speaking I do, the more insight I get into my writing. I find more parallels than differences.
In fact, I’m convinced that writers can learn a lot from speaking.
How Public Speaking Can Make You a Better Writer
1. You Practice Engaging Your Audience
Before you think “thank you, Captain Obvious,” think of the “Wonk wonk wonk wonk….” drone of Charles Schulz’ adults in Charlie Brown. That runs neck and neck with a major wardrobe malfunction as the worst fear of every speaker.
Of course, writers aim to engage, too. It’s what drives us. Yet, we sometimes lose sight of that. Schedules, due dates, and word counts obscure our view of our audience.
Speaking can make you a better writer because speakers don’t have the luxury of losing sight of their audience. They know as they speak who is paying attention and who is doodling. It sounds intimidating, but as you write for listeners that will be in the room with you, you visualize them. It’s easy to keep them in mind. You know you don’t want to see them playing with their phones and it comes through in your writing.
2. You get Better at Storytelling
Speaking is all about storytelling. In Talk Like Ted, Carmine Gallon includes “Mastering the Art of Storytelling” as one of the “9 Public speaking secrets of the world’s great minds.” (This is a great book for authors and speakers!) According to Gallon, stories break down walls. They open minds by touching hearts.
I’ve haven’t latched onto this, simply because I’m into storytelling. Whether you’re writing or speaking, storytelling works. There’s no doubt in my mind that speaking can make you a better writer by honing your storytelling skills. In fact, good storytelling drives many of the following points.
3. You Have to Speak with Passion
I wonder if Nietzsche was inspired to write this by a bad speaker….
As Friedrich Nietzsche asked, “Is not life a hundred times too short for us to bore ourselves?” Passion is, in short, what makes our writing or speech interesting. It’s what conveys emotion. Speakers do it with their voice.
Writers do it with that other voice. Public speaking can help writers make sure they don’t edit the passion out of their voice as they perfect their style. Remembering the importance of passion can also help writers choose what to write about. Both speakers and writers fall flat when they chose a topic that doesn’t interest them. Passion is a hard thing to fake.
4. You Perfect Your Hook
Bad in golf, but excellent for writers…
I recently attended a Toastmasters “live coaching event.” Speakers started their prepared speeches and were interrupted by a champion speaker who analyzed what worked and what didn’t work. The process evoked a strong sense of Déjà vu—back to the San Francisco Writer’s conference with the first page critiques.
“Your hook was 30 seconds into your speech…” Sounds familiar, right?
Lance Miller, a former Toastmaster’s world champion, didn’t just focus on grabbing listeners’ attention. Rather, he advised them to help listeners engage emotionally. Which goes back to #1, #2, and #3. Hmmm.
5. You Learn to Speak (or Write) with Confidence
A writer’s audience can’t tell if the author’s fingers shook as they wrote, but they can sense our authority on our topics. Public speaking can make you a better writer by helping you develop that authority. Your confidence will come through your voice.
6. You Have to Be Authentic
Every audience wants a reliable narrator, whether they are in the room with them or not. If readers trust you and like you, they’ll stay with you. If they understand where you’re coming from, your viewpoint is more digestible to them.
Speaking authentically also brings home the writers’ mantra of “Show, Don’t tell.” For instance, my Toastmasters colleagues will quickly catch over-abundance of drama. Emotion is great. Drama, for drama’s sake isn’t. In fact, you’ll hear member suggest a tone of voice implying that the speaker’s emotion is kept under control, but with great effort. Again, you become a better storyteller. Which brings us to #9.
7. You Become Aware of Body language
In speaking, you do show with your body language and hand movements. Speaking drives this home. You won’t tell an audience that you were mad. You’ll show them with your voice, your stance, you facial expression and your gestures. It’s good practice.
8. You Improve Your Organization
Good organization is critical in a speech. Unlike readers, listeners don’t have the luxury of referring back to previous paragraphs or looking at bullet points.
Speaking can make you a better writer. As you prepare for speaking, you become hyper-aware of your talk’s organization. You learn to make sure you audience understands where you’re headed and any turns in the road.
9. Your Become Intentional about the Appropriate Amount and Type of Detail
Authors have the luxury of making their writing as “long as it needs to be.” Within limits, through the way they weave their story, writes can provide a wealth of background and backstories.
This is more challenging for speakers. First, they usually are operating under a time limit. Secondly, due to their length, speeches seldom offer the type of structure that lends itself to much back-story. Speakers need to provide detail that will engage readers in the story or setting, but not so much details that their listeners hear “wonk wonk wonk.”
They have to pick and choose which detail to use, which isn’t easy. Many times, it comes down to the listener’s ability to visualize the situation. Other times, it goes back to engaging. Which details will engage? Add humor? Increase impact? Public speaking can make you a better writer as you become sensitive to what details you include.
10. Strong Endings are Easier
As a non-fiction blogger, myself, a strong conclusion is often the hardest part. Perhaps it’s my internal distaste with ye ole “call to action.”
Somehow, in speaking, crafting a strong ending isn’t as hard. Perhaps it’s the immediacy of my audience, but when I end a speech, I beholden to help them figure out what they can do with any edification they gained by listening to me.
See if speaking can make you a better writer. Try your hand (voice). You can take a public speaking course or join a Toastmasters club. You’ll gain great insight into your writing.