A quilter or seamstress invests in the machine best suited for her hobby. She has a sewing room stocked with shelves of materials, trims, and embellishments. A knitter has baskets of yarn, pattern books, needles, and accessories. Artists have easels, paints, and brushes. Most of these crafters have supplies they will never use.
A silhouette artist works with minimal materials. A person chances by. A smile or turn of the head alerts the artist. From a canvas of black paper, he captures the profile with clean, sharp blades. He creates curves and angles that detail the subject. The framed product becomes a visual treasure.
My sewing machine and serger sleep like Rip Van Winkle. My knitting baskets overflow with yarn, needles, and supplies. I’ve donated my colored pencils and construction paper to a charity.
I’m a writer. My hands are my tools. I mold the shape of a head, add a beard or mustache, and dress a dapper character. If the look isn’t pleasing, no need to rip out stitches, or change the canvas, or discard the paper. I can add a hat, shave the beard, and update the wardrobe—all with words that dance across my computer screen at the command of my fingertips.
There much ado on Capitol Hill about the importance of spelling. It’s about time. Ask me. I’m a grammar cop with a badge to prove it.
I’m a writer—at least that’s how I use to identify myself before I realized that editing is my niche. I’m a member of California Writers Club Tri-Valley Branch also known as Tri-Valley Writers. I’ve been part of a novel group, one of the individualized critique groups that meet monthly. There I’m known as the grammarian—often editing English more than critiquing the story.
Grammar Police Award
Long before Trump was elected president, Lani Longshore, a multi-talented crafter, presented me with a Grammar Police shield embroidered on the right inside of a folding credential case. My editing card fits in a clear plastic slot on the left. I seldom have to flash it because most writers know I spout Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) rules as often as President Trump tweets.
If I had made this award public sooner, perhaps the U.S. Library of Congress would have consulted me (or at least the 16th Edition of CMOS) and been spared the embarrassment of a grammar error in President Trump’s inaugural poster.
Too late to correct the posters but production has been halted. If you bought a first run at $16.95, the odds are that someday it will be a collector’s item—not because of the grammar error but because of the wasted taxpayer dollars for a reprint that reads:
No dream 2 big, no challenge 2 great…
Today, February 2, 2017 is celebrated by some and bemoaned by others as Groundhog Day. On this 131st weather prediction by Punxsutawney Phil, he resisted being dragged from his burrow. Why?
- Maybe because nature says Phil is supposed to emerge from hibernation on his own, not be extracted by human hands.
- Maybe because his sweet dreams were interrupted.
- Maybe because he was exposed to the below-freezing temperature with no insulated underwear, top coat, hat, or gloves like the human handler.
Phil’s predictions have only scored right for about half of these 131 years. I suspect it’s because his mind isn’t clear when his heart rate accelerates from the hibernation rate of about 16 beats or less a minute to a fight-for-life 80 beats when extracted from underground darkness.
Picking only Phil on this day every year hints of discrimination—maybe even a hate crime. My advice to Phil: Rest for the next six weeks, then get a good lawyer.
Chomping on a handful of cashews and almonds today reminded me of my father’s penchant for buying nuts for Christmas. Here’s a glimpse from Double Take (Carr Twins & Co., 2014), a memoir I have retold many times, many ways, many years.
At Red’s Market, Papa selects a few groceries, writes each item in a pocket size notebook, and places the food into the shopping cart. A silent moment, as if thinking, follows after he totals the amount. He dips a metal scoop into an open bin of a new crop of walnuts. He carefully inspects each nut and discards those with damaged shells or blemishes. He weighs the remaining walnuts and pours them from the metal scoop into a small brown paper bag, then transfers the bag to the hanging scale. He checks the weight, calculates the price, and writes it in his notebook.
At home after the meager groceries are unloaded and put away, Papa takes the small brown bag of walnuts and disappears into the cellar through the trap door in the dining room floor. I hear him place the bag into a metal can. He returns empty handed.
As the holidays approach, my brother Clyde brings almonds from the orchard near his home. Papa adds Brazil nuts and filberts and deposits all into the can.
This morning, Papa goes into the cellar numerous times, returning with treasures from the can. Today is Christmas.
My father’s holiday snacks required a long wait from the time they were sealed in a 25-gallon storage can in the cellar until Christmas morning. A nutcracker and picks were always nearby in the kitchen, but Papa retrieved a hammer from the handmade wooden toolbox in the cellar. My nephews cracked the almonds and English walnuts in their strong hands and freed the Brazil nuts and filberts with a single tap of the hammer. I tried my luck at both. I had to use the hammer to open all but the almonds. My awkward slams resulted in nut pieces, seldom a half or whole nutmeat.
I purchased shelled ready-to-eat nuts for the holidays. I ignored my father’s disdain of peanuts at Christmas, but I didn’t mix them with the others. After all, peanuts are legumes, not noble nuts.
My mother was superstitious. She wouldn’t walk under a ladder. Actually, that showed her common sense. On a walk through the one-block square park one evening long ago, Mama took my twin and me by the hand as we approached the far side of the shortcut and turned us a different direction because a black cat crossed the sidewalk in front of us. If it was safe for the cat, why not for us? Our home was a shotgun style meaning that the front and back doors were in a direct line (one could see the backyard from the front porch if both doors were open). Mama’s superstitious ways insisted a person who entered the front door, exited the back to see the garden or chickens, must reenter the house and depart through the front door, not leave by one of the backyard gates.
Today, Friday the 13th, I’m repeating portions of a blog I first posted on May 13, 2016.
In Escape, one of my five crime fiction works in progress, I begin with a tight-knit genealogy group called Ghost Chasers (GCs) meeting for Friday lunch in the fictitious town of Pleasantville, Texas. These Friday meetings are the core of my manuscript, but writing rules insist that I minimize repetitious words in a single paragraph or close proximity. But how else to say Friday?
Weighing a decision of whether GCs will meet today, I researched superstition associated with friggatriskaidekaphobia, fear of Friday the 13th.
Now, my genealogists have a new mystery to solve when one of their members vanishes on Friday the 13th. If I need an alternate word for Friday, I’ll let one of my characters say Frigga. Frigga means Friday.
Write what you know. You’ve heard it. I’ve heard it. I followed that advice. I wrote what I knew and published a book of my paranormal experiences. The next year, I published a book of devotionals—another familiar theme. I sold books at local events and a couple of spiritual conferences. Then I stopped writing. Just like that.
Well, maybe not totally stopped. I dabbled in Haiku and a few made it to newspaper contest winners circle. My short stories appeared in local and mainstream New York anthologies. I continued to be a featured devotional contributor to a women’s ministry blog. Later, I co-authored a book of childhood memoirs with my twin. But something was missing. I no longer had a desire to write.
I didn’t go through a long period of mourning. I took writing classes. I filled my time with volunteer projects, from president of a writing group to teaching adult Bible classes. I knitted simple projects. I read. Then National Novel Writing Month (NanoWriMo) popped up in my computer email inbox. Whammo! A challenge to individual writers to complete a 50,000-word first draft of a novel in thirty days.
At ten minutes before midnight on Halloween, I settled at my laptop computer armed with black coffee and chocolate candy and logged into the NaNoWriMo website. Fingers poised above my laptop keyboard seconds before countdown, I had no outline. No character descriptions. Nothing but a fictional setting in Arizona and an inner urge to create something different—something new—in November.
That first NaNo channeled my inner creativity. I parachuted from the safety of nonfiction into an unknown world of crime fiction. Words flew from my fingertips to the screen and formed sentences when the clock on my computer showed midnight as though watching a detective stretch the yellow tape to mark a crime scene.
For me, NaNoWriMo opened a new world of creativity—forgetting what I knew and stepping into the unknown, darker than the Halloween night.
Thirty days hath September
April, June and November
February has twenty eight alone
All the rest have thirty-one
Except in Leap Year, that’s the time
When February’s Days are twenty-nine
Five hundred years ago in the 16th Century, someone penned this rhyme as a song to remember the number of days in each month. One of my elementary school teachers insisted that we memorize this poem to help us learn the calendar system. Later, during quiet quizzes, mouths twitched and twisted as youngsters recited the poem in silence. Another teacher, annoyed by the whispering lips, taught us the hills and valleys method.
I followed the teacher’s illustration and touched the tip of my right index finger to the knuckle above my left index finger. Up on the hills for 31-day months, down in the valleys for others. On the return trip for the second half of the year, tap the knuckle above the left ring finger, then downs and ups ending with December on a mountain top where I began with January.
When other teachers insisted that the students commit this to memory, I perfected an invisible method by resting my left wrist on my desk, fingers raised slightly, and traced the hills and valleys with my eyes. When I learned to type years later, that same left-hand position on the home row let my fingers soar to a perfect 65 words per minute score on a manual Underwood typewriter.
Now, if I need a memory jog for the hills and valleys months, I still use my right hand. I tap the time and date in the lower right corner of my computer task bar and a calendar pops on screen. No more ups and downs for me.
Ups and Downs is an updated Violet’s Vibes post that first appeared on January 28, 2010