May 24, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I am happy to report that I got some revisions done today. Enough, in fact, that I decided to reward myself, not with ice cream or cupcakes, but with search engine terms. Sometimes, when I’m avoiding writing but want to pretend like I’m doing something productive for my blog, I check my stats to see how folks are finding my site. And often, I am rewarded with some pretty hilarious stuff. Hilarious not because someone typed these terms into their search engine (searching for euchre cartoons is perfectly normal. I’ve done it too), but because the search engine pointed them here. To my blog. Where I have actually written about some of these things.
Aside: To those of you searching for information about men and socks (and there are more of you than are listed here), Welcome!
Here are my top ten favorite search engine terms that have brought folks to Butterfly Mind (*asterisked terms indicate subjects I have written about):
10. *Men and their socks
9. *Euchre cartoons
8. *Freaking out I can’t exercise on vacation
7. With his socks on
6. Three or more guys on a couch with socks
5. *Dental drilling agony
4. *I had a facelift and now i have one hell of a headache
3. *My left side mouth is bit numb and drooling
2. *Hibernating bears farts
And (drumroll), the best search term of all, which I did not write about, but was so funny I had to create it (because I couldn’t find a satisfactory result when I Googled the term):
1. Farting goat Venn diagram
So for the person out there who is searching for a farting goat Venn diagram, I’m not sure in what context you were researching farting goats, but after investigating goat farts on the internet, here’s what I’ve got for you:
Because I didn’t know much about farting goats, I have to give credit where credit is due and thank the Homesteading Today livestock forum. Their Farting Goats??? thread informed me of the sneeze/fart combo move (aka the Snart). From that thread I also learned that goats fart and queef when they are “prego” (and “it is disgusting”), goats do pass gas and “freshly burped up cud is just as bad,” and that one homesteader’s horses love “the buck/fart/gallop combo.”
But my favorite line from the thread, the line that wiggled it’s way into my heart and was the ultimate inspiration for the Venn Diagram, was this:
“Little Black usually garbs up a cud, then sneezes and farts at the same time. Then bless his heart, he looks at us like..what?!?!?”
I think I need to hang out with more homesteaders.
May 23, 2013 § 15 Comments
I heard a term yesterday for the type of writer I am: a pantser. This week I have been trying unsuccessfully to revise a growing pile of manuscripts. My critique partner, critique group, and husband have been kind enough to read drafts and give feedback, and now it’s up to me rewrite. Which I don’t want to do. Revising is excruciating compared to putting words on the page in the first place. And I think that may be because I’m a pantser.
“The term for writers who write by the seat of their pants, that don’t outline from the get-go, they’re called ‘pantsers,’ right?” – James Monohan, The Narrative Breakdown Revision Techniques 1 podcast
Outliners, as the name suggests, outline their work before they begin. This gives them the benefit of structuring their work, of knowing what they want to say, when they want to say it, and ultimately, what their point will be when they sit down to write their piece. They have a dress maker’s form dialed to all the right measurements, they have their design drawn, their fabrics selected. They know the color scheme, and they know their colors work together. They have an entire outfit in their mind’s eye before they begin to sew, and all they then have to do is dress their form.
Pantsers, on the other hand, just start writing. As James Monohan and Cheryl Klein laugh about in their excellent podcast, pantsers don’t know where they’re going or where they’re going to end up. Pantsers run on the white heat, the excitement, the thrill of discovery. As a designer, a pantser would wander around a fabric store, her heart fluttering with each new suede, or silk, and she would buy every fabric she likes the texture of, or the color. She doesn’t think about whether the fabrics will actually work together. She knows she might want to make a skirt and top, but hey, it could be a dress too. When she gets back to her studio, she dumps her haul on the table and designs by feel, each placement of fabric a new discovery.
Mononhan and Klein discuss the benefits and downfalls for both types of writers in their podcast – by following a rigid plan, outliners may may miss out on the thrill of discovery that pantsers so frequently enjoy, and by writing without a plan, pantsers may end up with a mess of sentences that are great on their own, but don’t harmonize as a coordinated ensemble.
That latter – a mess of words that don’t work towards a unified goal – brings me to my ultimate point, which is that, as a pantser, I often don’t have an ultimate point. Each critique returns with, “This is great, but I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. You’ve got a lot of directions you can go, but what is your goal with this? What do you want the reader to walk away with?” And I realize that I have lots of goals, and like most writers, I don’t want to part with any of them. I don’t want to put that skirt back just because I don’t have anything to go with it. The designer doesn’t want to ditch the suede even though it doesn’t work with the silk in her garment.
One of my New Years resolutions this year was to update my wardrobe so that my closet is filled with timeless pieces, so that I can better coordinate my clothes and feel less like a raggedy college kid and more like a polished woman. I have come a long way with that goal, and consequently, I feel confident and put together when I walk out the door. I want my writing to feel that way, too. Though I hate to cut this paragraph, or that sentence, doing so will make the piece more confident and put together if I edit towards a coordinated ensemble. And then, if I am still attached, like I am to a favorite blouse, I can pair the cut words with new thoughts to craft another design.
Luckily, Monohan and Klein gave some great advice on how to revise towards a polished, put together piece, even if you’re a pantser. I found two strategies that will help get me started:
1. If you are not an outliner, write by the seat of your pants to get your first draft. Once your ideas are on the page, go back and write an outline to help you better organize the construction of the finished piece. The outline will help you with the flow, find gaps that need to be filled, and see superfluous paragraphs that can be saved for another piece.
2. If you feel like you’ve got a lot of great ideas going on, but are struggling with cutting, or figuring out what your most important takeaway is, or what your point is, write a letter to a friend describing your piece – what sparked it to begin with, what your goals were in exploring the ideas, what your story is about, what you love about it, which parts you know aren’t working, and what you want the reader to walk away with. You don’t have to send the letter, but the act of writing it will help you figure out your goals and how to accomplish them.
Unfortunately, even though I am a step closer to starting my revisions (I listened to the podcast, right?), I am avoiding them by writing this instead. So I ask you, dear readers and writers, are you an outliner or a pantser? How do you think your writing style affects your feelings about rewriting, and how do you approach revisions? This is new territory for me as I transition from blogging (where, I admit, I publish first drafts) to submitting work for publication (where revision is critical). Give me a pep talk. Give me advice. And please feel free to link to articles that have helped you out. Thanks!
In The Narrative Breakdown, Cheryl Klein, James Monohan, and other guest co-hosts discuss storytelling tips and techniques of interest to any writer, student, or fan of quality creative writing, screenwriting, playwriting, fan fiction, English literature, etc.
May 20, 2013 § 2 Comments
As soon as the caller put his bow to the fiddle strings, and the first notes of mountain music sang out in the warm, dry country store, I was a goner. My eyes teared up as feet tapped, and teeth shined, and white-haired heads bobbed in time with Old Time Appalachian music.
My parents are in town, stopping through Virginia to see us as they embark on the great adventure of their lives: an RV journey from their home in Georgia, across the US and Canada, to the wilderness of Alaska. Another rainy day in Blacksburg derailed our plans to take them hiking, to show them the spring green of our Appalachian forests. Rather than stare at each other in the confines of our living room while the rain came down, we decided to escape to a different kind of Appalachia before they drive out of these hills: an open jam session at the Floyd Country Store.
Sitting in a circle in folding chairs on the warm wooden planks were eleven musicians, some newcomers, some old timers, all hunched over their strings, their left hands moving up and down fret boards as they played Turkey in the Straw. Their shoulders shrugged in time as they picked banjos and mandolins, twitched bows across fiddles, strummed guitars (pronounced GIH-tahrs), and as one burly, bearded mountain man thumped an upright bass with a meaty hand. All of the instruments were stringed, but the leather sole of a mandolin player’s shoe slapped time on the floor, an unofficial drum. Throughout the four rows of folding chairs behind the bluegrass circle, feet tapped, heads nodded, and shoulders bumped as the audience seat-danced.
The leader of the jam called out, with his chin clamped to the instrument on his shoulder, and his bow racing across fiddle strings, “The floor is open here in the middle.” He tipped his head to the center of the circle. “If anyone wants to dance, it sure helps us out.” I looked at our daughter and raised my eyebrows, “Do you want to dance?” Her eyes got wide as she licked her ice cream cone and she shook her head. No way.
The group moved into their next song, which was even more irresistible than the first, and as fiddle bows fluttered, the man from behind the counter, who had served me my coffee, stepped into the circle and began dancing. (It turns out he is local flatfooting champion Rick Sutphin). My mom leaned over and said in my ear, “You’re going to have to learn how to buck dance, Andrea!” A silver haired man with pressed, stiff, indigo jeans stepped in after him and began flat foot dancing as well. My eyes teared up again to see the joy on their faces, to see bliss in the smile of the fiddler in front of me. Wrapped up in this music and this Riverdance type jig is the rich Appalachian history of Celtic immigrants climbing into the mountains to find affordable farming land. The banjos and mandolins and slapping feet tell a story of isolation beat back by coming together for country dances, for fiddling, for celebrating the harvest. The twangy sounds, and the rhythm that moves men to buck dance, preserve a rich history, the pulse of which still beats in this mountain music of Virginia. A history that depended on creating community, on participation, for mountain folk to escape the remoteness of their homes in the hills, and that brought a sense of giddiness and joy on the occasions they came together to put their lives into song. How can you not be moved by that?
Apparently it was easy for our nine year old, who was ready to leave just as the silver haired man collapsed into his seat, panting and grinning, and the group moved into a waltz. Our daughter was captivated, though, as was I. I wanted more.
We left reluctantly, and on our way home we asked our daughter, “Do you think you’d like to play an instrument?” She wanders around the house, the campsite, bopping in her booster seat, singing, clapping, dancing little jigs. I crossed my fingers, begging in my heart for a musician in the family.
She thought a minute as she watched at the wet green mountainsides pass by her window. And then she said, “Yes.” She picked at her jeans. “I want to learn the guitar.”
The Floyd Country Store broadcasts The Floyd Radio Show from their Friday Night Jamboree, which features gospel music, skits, and dance bands (previous shows available on podcast). Tickets go on sale no earlier than 4:30 on Fridays. On Saturdays they host a free Americana Afternoon starting at noon, followed by an open mic session at 1:30, and on Sundays from 2 to 4 pm, the Floyd Country Store hosts a jam with a local Old Time or Bluegrass band who leads the jam session. The jam session is free. More information on the On Stage page of their website.
If you are interested in Appalachian Music, I highly recommend the movie (and soundtrack) Songcatcher.
May 16, 2013 § 16 Comments
My husband had barely gotten his foot in the door last Tuesday when I pounced. I grinned up at him, “I learned how to do podcasts today!” I could feel my whole body sparking with excitement.
He looked at me blankly, suitcase in hand. Like most of the world, he discovered podcasts years ago. “You mean you learned how to make one?” he asked.
My shoulders drooped a little and he tried to hide his smile. “Or you learned how to listen to them?”
“Well, I learned how to download them onto my phone, too.”
That day, I had listened to Terry Gross interview David Sedaris while I ironed. I thought about the first time I heard David Sedaris on the radio, singing “My bologna has a first name, it’s O-S-C-A-R” in his Billie Holliday voice. I stopped ironing and wrote the story down. When that piece ended, I listened to Terry interview Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, author of Zoobiquity: What Humans Can Learn From Animal Illness. During their conversation, they discussed the topic of fainting, which was riveting to me, especially as a fainter who is writing a story about fainting. They discussed fainting (also known as syncope) in the animal world – that fear can trigger not only fight or flight as an anti-predation response, but also fainting – and how the syncope response could have evolutionary benefits. I took notes for my story then packed up the ironing, which I had finished.
I loaded up my phone with more Fresh Air episodes, then added RadioLab episodes, and This American Life episodes. For Wednesday was cleaning day.
The following day, while I scrubbed bathtubs and sinks, I listened to This American Life, to a young man’s journey across the country on foot, pushing his backpack in a baby stroller across the desert, asking folks along the way, “If you could go back and, taking all of what you’ve learned in your life, tell your 23-year-old self something, what might you say?” On Radiolab, I listened to a longtime believer suddenly lose his faith in God while I swept and mopped, and I learned about a deaf man who lived without language – no sign language, no lip reading – into his adult life. He finally learned language as a grown man, learned that a table has a name – it is named “table” – and he fell in love with words like I fell in love with my husband. The Words episode of Radiolab is possibly my favorite podcast so far.
At the end of the day, my mind felt invigorated, and I swear my IQ jumped 15 points.
This Wednesday, I discovered Book Riot’s new podcast, and while I cleaned the stove, I listened to BookRiot.com editors Rebecca Schinsky and Jeff O’Neal discuss The Great Gatsby hype and the publishing strategy of female authors using initials instead of their full names so that men won’t automatically dismiss their titles as “women’s lit.” While I cleaned bathrooms I listened to the Surgery 101 team explain how to avoid fainting in the OR. While I swept and mopped, I listened to Lee Gutkind describe the Creative Nonfiction movement. While I made salsa, I listened to Natalie Goldberg read from her new book, The Great Failure, and while I set the table I listened to Dinty W. Moore discuss “Writing it Short: The Guide to Brevity.”
Now, I’ve got a good 13 podcast episodes lined up for when I work out, for when I fold laundry, for when I unload the dishwasher. For when I shake a cocktail at the end of cleaning day to celebrate my budding genius.
Here are the podcasts I currently subscribe to. Show descriptions are lifted from their About pages. I’m still looking for great podcasts, so if you have any favorites, please share them in the comments. Thanks!
All Songs Considered: All Songs Considered is home to the best new music and a community of fans always ready to share their opinions on the current music scene.
Bookrageous: Serious about books…but not exactly serious.
Book Riot: A weekly news and talk show about what’s new, cool, and worth talking about in the world of books and reading, brought to you by the editors of BookRiot.com
Fresh Air: Fresh Air from WHYY, the Peabody Award-winning weekday magazine of contemporary arts and issues, is one of public radio’s most popular programs. Hosted by Terry Gross, the show features intimate conversations with today’s biggest luminaries
Podlit: A podcast devoted to the creative nonfiction genre and other aspects of the literary world. It’s the podcast for writers, readers, students, teachers, and anyone else seeking the newest reports and latest discussions of the literary and publishing industries. Brought to you by Creative Nonfiction Magazine.
Radiolab: Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.
This American Life: This American Life is a weekly public radio show produced by Chicago Public Media and distributed by Public Radio International.
The Writer’s Almanac: Daily poems, prose, and literary history with Garrison Keillor
May 14, 2013 § 6 Comments
“Oh my God, a lady’s slipper!” I pulled the camera out of my pack as I raced to the side of the road. I crouched down and snapped pictures as our nine year old son giggled.
“I guess Mom likes lady slippers,” he said.
I looked up and saw two more lady’s slippers, and then another one across the street. I zigzagged back and forth and shot 20 frames in the first five minutes of our hike. We hadn’t even made it to the trailhead yet.
The forest at the bottom of Old Rag Mountain was lush with the apple green of spring. Every shrub, every tree, had leafed out, and in their newness, no matter the species – oak, birch, maple – the leaves were identical shades of peridot. It was mid May, and we had hit Shenandoah at the peak of spring’s grandeur. Everywhere we looked, the forest floor was sprinkled with wildflowers.
My husband paused on the trail as I shot a close up. He looked out into the sea of green, then at me, photographing yet another tiny detail – a flower, a stone, a mound of moss. “Can you get a picture of the whole forest?”
“Sure,” I said. “It’s kind of hard to get a clear shot, though.” I usually can’t see the forest for the trees.
“I don’t care.” He gazed into the green. “I just like the forest here.”
We continued up, and up, and up, stepping over millipedes, pressing our palms to boulders, burying our faces in mountain azaleas to inhale their honeysuckle scent.
“Dad, can we climb this rock?” We had been on the trail for an hour, but we still had a long way to go. The hike was going to be about six miles round trip, which would be the longest distance our kids had ever done. More than that, the final ascent was going to be extremely technical, with lots of bouldering. My husband looked worried. He checked the sky for the thunderclouds that were expected to roll in. The exposed rock scramble at the top would be a treacherous place in a storm.
“I think we should keep moving,” he said. “You guys need to save your energy. This is going to be the hardest hike you’ve ever done.” He checked the sky again. “There are going to be plenty of rocks to climb at the top.”
We had gotten an early start – we woke with the sun and were out of our tent by 6:30 am, boiling water for oatmeal and coffee. At 8 o’clock we were already on Skyline Drive, on our way to the trailhead. So other than the threat of storms, I wasn’t too concerned about time. I hiked at the back and stopped frequently to snap pictures. The diversity on the trail was irresistible, and I wanted to photograph it all.
“Andrea, is it okay if we don’t wait each time you stop? I don’t want to ruin everyone’s fun, but I really think we should get to the top, and then we can take our time on the descent.”
I shot one more closeup then put my camera away, “No, you’re right. I can take pictures on the way down.” I vowed to keep my camera stowed, and started hiking at the front, a little ahead of the family so that if I wanted to stop for a photograph, they could catch up while I shot. Not ten minutes later, I had my camera out again.
“Look at these flowers! They look like bells!” My son, then husband, then daughter hiked by. I passed them a few minutes later when they stopped for water, hiked ahead, then had my camera out again. “Look at all this trillium! There’s a whole hillside of it!”
My son laughed as he passed me. “You’re not doing a very good job of keeping your camera put away, Mom.”
When we arrived at (what I now realize is) the famous rock scramble, I was glad for my husband’s prodding. I was blissfully ignorant about the hike – I hadn’t looked at the map or read anything about it – and as we lowered our kids into crevasses and watched them clamber over stones that curved toward a 3000 foot drop, I realized it was probably a good thing that I hadn’t. I would have seen things like this, from the National Park Service website:
Old Rag is Shenandoah’s most popular and most dangerous hike. The number of blogs and websites about this hike attests to its popularity. The number of search and rescue missions each year attests to its danger.
Our seven year old daughter was a natural on the rocks. She found her own hand and foot holds, and her tiredness (read: boredom) from the three mile (so far) hike vanished as she scrambled over gray granite. Our son accepted our help more often, and said it was “a little freaky” as he squeezed between 8 inch cracks in mountain stone, or jumped from one car sized boulder to another. The further we climbed on the stone, the more nervous I got about our descent. Getting up the rocks was hard enough – getting down them could be perilous. My husband and son were concerned about the descent too. Yet we continued to climb.
Despite our height (and my nerves), the rock scramble was a grounding experience. I was connected to the earth up there, dependent on it, with my bare hands on rough granite, my hip against a boulder, my heart pressed to stone. When we finally reached the peak, after several false summits, I was exhilarated by the mountain under my feet and the big sky above, by boulders perched at the top of the world, by gentle rain falling from a blue sky. There were no thunderclouds in sight, and we had made it to the top. I surveyed a 360 degree view of the vibrant green of Appalachia in sunlight, an unmarred view of spring’s progression up the mountain sides – a profusion of apple green in the valleys thinning to brown bare branches at 3000 feet. And there wasn’t a building in sight. Just forest and rocks and mountains.
We high-fived the kids, and hugged them, and told them, “You are the coolest kids EVER. Look what you just did!” My husband told them, “You can have as many s’mores as you want tonight. You can eat them til you puke if you want to.” Our son shouted “YEAH!” and jumped from one boulder to another at the top of the mountain, while my heart jumped into my throat.
Their dad and I discussed our options while the kids ate granola bars and the wind whipped our windbreakers against our skin.
“Is there another way off the mountain?” I asked. “That scramble is going to be really tricky on the way back down.” Our son had been pretty freaked out on the descent off of only one rock at Dragon’s Tooth in Blacksburg. There were scores of boulders to navigate here. And to be fair, I wasn’t excited about descending the scramble either.
“There’s another way down, but it’s five miles,” he said. Crap. That would add up to nine miles. Double the distance the kids are accustomed to doing.
“I want to go the long way,” I said.
“Me too,” said our son.
And so we did.
Near the bottom, our daughter took my hand and said, “We saw a lot on this hike today.”
“Yeah, we saw lady’s slippers, and mountain azaleas, a hillside of trillium, and those wild geraniums you like,” I said. She had one of those tucked into her pig tail.
“And dandelions,” she said. “And a waterfall.”
“And those cute little white flowers, and the violets, and boulders perched on mountain tops, and spring climbing the forest. It’s amazing how pretty it can be when we don’t build all over everything. When we just allow nature to be nature.”
Our son nodded, a happy smile on his face. “I like it when nature is allowed to be nature.” And after nine miles that were supposed to be five, after climbing to an elevation of 3291 feet under his own power, after five hours of hiking, he ran off down the trail.
May 13, 2013 § 11 Comments
After my recent post regarding rejection, and how my heart flutters with each new email in dread of the next “So Sorry,” I was very excited to receive two emails last week that did make my heart jump, and in a good way. The first was an acceptance note. Brevity Magazine’s Nonfiction Blog picked up one of my pieces and has republished it. Check out Why Description Matters to the Brain on Brevity’s blog, edited by Dinty W. Moore. (Interesting aside: Brevity and I share the same Oulipo blog theme. Grayscale, minimalist, word-focused. Pop of orange. In (an) other word, Awesome.) On the heels of the email from Mr. Moore, I received an email from Cheri Lucas Rowlands, an editor at WordPress.com, that she planned to include my site on the WordPress.com News blog. Sure enough, yesterday morning I saw my drunken snow day graph on A Special Sunday: A Mix of Mother’s Day Blogs. Big thanks to Mr. Moore and Ms. Rowlands for making my week. If you are a new reader and you found me through the Brevity or WordPress blogs, welcome! I’m very glad to have you here.
In other news, whether you are new here or you’ve been here a while, if you look to the left on your screen (or under “Menu” on your mobile), you’ll see some new features that I’ve added to Butterfly Mind. One is a Table of Contents (of sorts). I’ve yet to figure out a way to make my site more easily navigable, and since I’d rather write than get lost in a rabbit hole of blog design and drop-down menus, I decided to whip up this table of contents instead. It catalogs my first 100 blog posts by title and includes a favorite word from each post. The entries are in chronological order, beginning at the top with the very first post in June of 2012.
I have also added a Guestbook. Whether you’re a regular here or if you’ve just arrived, please feel free to say hi. I love to know where you’re from, what brought you here, what you like to read and write.
Thanks for reading,
May 12, 2013 § 11 Comments
With every sock
right side in
down in the basement
Vowing I’ll make the kids turn their own socks
And knowing I won’t,
I appreciate my mother.
With every attempted paperback
on the couch
on my back
on a Saturday,
Our daughter asking questions
til I put the book down,
“What’s for dinner?”
and the grumbles
when I answer
after hours of
brainstorming menus, shopping for food, unloading groceries,
preparing home cooked meals,
I sympathize with my mother.
With every hard question -
“What happened to the squirrel after it died?”
“Why is it mostly Moms who stay home?”
I ache for my mother
perched on the edge of my white daybed,
hands clasped as she tried to answer,
“Who wrote the Bible?”
“If Adam and Eve were the first people, where did their son’s wives come from?”
With every loud sigh I expel
or cabinet I slam
Buying time to discern the right thing to do,
With every tough punishment
that leaves our kids in tears
And the guilt I feel
for making them cry -
They trust me,
They want my approval,
They want me to see them as perfect -
I understand my mother.
With every laugh at the dinner table
That builds til I can’t stop
and tears stream down my cheeks,
and my jaw and face hurt
from smiling so hard,
I am thankful for my mother
Who taught me well.
I love you Mom! Happy Mother’s Day!