Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Exercising Our Creativity Keeps Our Brains in Shape

Thought for the day: Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think if only you try! [Dr. Seuss]

Yipes. Did you see that blur? It was yet another month flying past. Holy moley!

Which mean... it's time for another IWSG post. This, the first Wednesday of the month, is when writers all over the world post about the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the ins and outs... of writing. We celebrate... we complain... we commiserate. Whatever we need, this is the place to find it. Humble thanks and a jolly tip of the hat go to Alex Cavanaugh, our fearless ninja leader and the originator of this fine group. If you'd like to join (It's FREE!) or would like to read some of the other posts, please go HERE

I've gotta say, October has been a pretty good month for me, writing-wise. I'd been semi-stalled on my WIP, kinda spinning my wheels, and only writing in short dribs and drabs, and then at the last minute, I decided to write something for the WEP challenge to make my "kid sister" pal Renee happy. The funny thing is, it made ME happy, too. I actually had fun with it, and much to my surprise, the judges selected it to receive the Encouragement Award... kinda like third place. (Like being Miss Congeniality! Cool. huh?)  It didn't do a darned thing to advance my WIP, but it was writing, and it was fun. Then, I decided to write and submit a story for the next IWSG anthology. Young adult romance isn't exactly the sort of thing I usually write, but doggone if I didn't have fun with THAT, too... a LOT of fun. THEN, to top it all off, after completing those two projects, my enthusiasm for my WIP returned...  and I'm now doing more writing than procrastinating and making lame excuses. (At this rate, I may actually finish this darned book!)

[source: unsplash]
Let's move right on to this month's question, shall we?

How has your creativity in life evolved since you began writing?

I don't have any statistics to back me up, but I suspect that most writers are creative people, and  by that, I'm not just stating the obvious. I'm not saying that writers write. (Duh!) I mean that I think writers tend to be creative in other ways, as well.

I think we're all born with an innate curiosity and imagination, which kinda go hand-in-hand with creativity. This spark of inspired creativity, combined with a propensity to ask what if is what propels many writers. Me? There aren't many creative endeavors I haven't explored.

Smarticus thinks I've crocheted enough afghans to just about cover the globe. Lots of sewing and doll-making, too. Used to do a lot of oil painting and song writing, too, to go along with my guitar-playing. I even got into macrame... and made all kinds of things out of egg cartons. Even built a small Morse code receiver and transmitter. You name it, and I probably tried it.

Was I good at all of it?

In a word, no. I wasn't horrible... but I certainly wasn't great. But I was creative.

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. [Scott Adams]

I made lots of mistakes. Most of my oil paintings belonged in the garbage, but there were a few... a few... worthy of a frame. Dabbling in water colors was a whole 'nother kinda painting that brought me a lot of joy, as did all of the other arts and crafts I embraced over the years. The most important thing to me was that I created something other than carbon dioxide.

But as for how my creativity has evolved since I put all of my eggs in the writing basket? It hasn't. Writing has come to rule supreme over all the rest. And ya know what? I think that's a mistake. Just as writing the entry for the WEP challenge and the Young Adult romance for the anthology stirred things up a bit and enabled me to summon up renewed energy for book two of my series, I think doing other creative activities... you know, something that doesn't have a darned thing to do with writing... would be a smart move. Not just for me, but for most writers.

Writing may be a passion, but if we allow it to become the be-all and end-all sum of our creativity, we shortchange our potential. Do you do puzzles? I do, and my two favorites are the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzles and killer Sudoku puzzles. The thing about doing these two very different kinds of puzzles... and I know this is gonna sound weird... but it feels like I'm using different parts of my brain to solve them. The whole thought process feels different... and I think that's a good thing. Kinda keeps my brain on its toes. So to speak.

Same with doing different kinds of creative activities. The different processes exercise different parts of our imagination and stimulate the ol' gray matter and our creative chops. Why limit ourselves? So what if you don't paint like Rembrandt? Paint like YOU.  Don't be afraid to try. Not the world's best dancer? So what? Dance, anyway! Enjoy the experience.

The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. [Sylvia Plath]

Like the commercial say... Just do it! Life is filled with creative possibilities. Why limit ourselves to one thing? Writing is our passion, but it isn't cheating when we have a fling with another kind of creativity once in a while. Keeps the imagination limber, and in the long run, I think we'll be better writers for it.

                                  Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, November 2, 2018

There's No Accounting for Taste

Thought for the day:  How is it that a toddler can be so picky and slow when it comes to eating a nutritious dinner, and yet so fast when it comes to shoving every disgusting thing he finds on the ground into his mouth?

Have you ever noticed how terrapin, turtle, and tortoise seem to be used interchangeably? No? Well, I did, and it made me wonder what, if any, difference there was between the terms. Now that I've done some reading, I can safely report that there is no longer a need to include the word terrapin in my vocabulary. No sirree, and here's why. Turtle is a generic term, so you can properly use it to refer to any of those adorable shelled reptiles, whether they live on the land or in the water.  A tortoise is a turtle, and though the term can be used to denote any turtle, it refers more precisely to a land turtle. But terrapin is defined as any of North America's edible water turtles. Oh, no, no, no, no, no.  I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned, there is no such thing as an edible turtle. So, I will not be using that word again anytime soon.

And yeah, I know some of you may disagree. Some of you may consider turtles a wonderful delicacy. After all, even though I think calves are absolutely adorable and have the most beautiful eyes, when driving past a field of them, I may or may not have said a time or two, "Oh, look at all the veals!"

I know. Crass.

But if you think about it, we human eat a lot of strange foods. I mean, I was raised on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, so I love good salty raw oysters, but I still wonder about the first human who picked one up and thought, I'm going to open that thing and eat whatever I find inside. (Even if it looks like the Jolly Green Giant's booger on a half-shell? I don't think I would've been that brave.)

I've gotta admit... it doesn't look terribly appetizing.
OK, let's take a look at some of the weird things some of us eat, shall we?
  • In Sardinia, people eat something called casu marzu, which is cheese riddled with insect larvae. Appropriately enough, it is also called maggot cheese. Yum, huh?
  • In Indonesia, fried monkey toes are considered a delicacy.
  • In Hungary, a favorite dish is comprised of fresh pig blood and scrambled eggs.
  • Talking about blood, in Sweden, blood dumplings are made with flour and reindeer blood, and the Polish have czarnina, a soup whose not-so-secret ingredient is duck blood.
  • Ever hear of head cheese? It looks like a nondescript mish-mash jellied lunch meat, and can be found in many delis. Did you know that isn't just a cutesy name? That it's actually made from the head of a pig? A whole head, which has to be shaved, and has to have the wax removed from its ears, prior to cooking? If you have the stomach for it, you can see how it's done here
head cheese

  • Americans traditionally eat some pretty weird stuff, too. How about scrapple, which is allegedly made from every part of the pig but its oink? I also read that some people in the South eat squirrel brains, although I can't say I've ever seen any of my neighbors so indulge, and I don't plan to serve them at our next dinner party, either.
  • In Eastern Europe, there's a dish called p'tcha which is a translucent "jello" made from calves' feet. 
  • Oh, and while we're talking about feet, let's not forget pickled pig and cow feet. (There's a jar of pickled pig feet lurking in my pantry now... for Smarticus, not me!)
  • In France, they eat calf's head; in Slovenia, they eat stewed dormice; in Italy, they eat cibreo, which is cock's combs; and in Thailand, they eat rats.
  • You've heard of Chinese birds nest soup? It is literally made from swifts' nests, and lest you think those nests are made of twigs and grass, they aren't. They're mostly made of saliva.
  • In the Philippines, balut answers the age-old chicken-or-the-egg question. This dish is made of fertilized eggs, which are cooked just before they hatch, so when you eat it, you get both the chicken (or duck) AND the egg.  
  • One of  Korea's favorite dishes is sannakji. Octopus. No big deal, you say? You've eaten octopus many times, you say?  How many times have you eaten it while it was still squirming on your plate? That's right. This dish is reeeeeeally fresh. While it's still alive, the octopus is cut into pieces and sprinkled with sesame oil, and the tentacles are STILL MOVING when diners pop it into their mouths. It poses quite a challenge, too, because those little suction cups on the tentacles stick to whatever surface they touch. So the diner has to pry his dinner from his chopsticks, and once it's in his mouth,  the tentacles latch onto his teeth, his tongue, and the roof of his mouth. And that's not all... sometimes, they don't even cut the octopus into manageable pieces. Sometimes they leave it whole, wrap the tentacles around a pair of chopsticks and stuff it into their mouths, head first. There are quite a few videos on Youtube of people eating live octopi, but they were a little too gross for me to share. If you want to see any of those videos, they're easy to find. (As well as people eating other live animals.)
  • And then, there's the national dish of Scotland. Haggis. This is a sausage-like dish which contains what they call the pluck of a sheep: its heart, liver, and lungs. (Takes a bit of pluck to eat it, too!) When all the ingredients are combined, they're traditionally sewn into the sheep's stomach for cooking, with the windpipe hanging over the side of the pot. Modern recipes, however, may call for tongue instead of lung, and sausage casing instead of sheep's stomach. 
  • This love-it or hate-it food comes to us from the UK:  

Marmite is a dark brown spread made from brewery yeast by-products. After seeing it mentioned on several blogs, I bought some at a local British specialty store. The shop's owner fairly waxed poetic about this stuff, but she warned me not to spread it on my toast like butter. "A very thin coat will do you," she said. Indeed. Although British children pretty much eat Marmite from the time they're weaned, I must say, even a very thin coating of it delivered a powerhouse punch of taste for my palate. Not exactly yeasty. It's a little salty and has a strong strong taste unlike anything I've ever eaten before. It's chock full of B vitamins, and very nutritious, so I might try it again, but no rush. I have plenty of time. Even after opening, the stuff will last for years at room temperature.

In closing on this whole weird foods of the world idea, I'll let these following pictures speak for themselves:

 bugs on a stick

fried spiders, anyone?

So, what's all this mean? It means there's simply no accounting for taste. People like what they like, and hate what they hate. Just because I tried chocolate-covered ants when I was a kid (they're crunchy) doesn't mean I'd ever choose them over a Hershey bar. Just because I ate snake once (it really DOES taste like chicken) doesn't mean I ever want to eat it again. And just because most of the world loves chocolate doesn't make you wrong if you hate it.

And here we go: Rejection from any given agent, publisher or reader doesn't mean your writing stinks. All it means is you haven't submitted it to the person with the perfect palate for it yet. The work of any creative person  is every bit as susceptible to personal taste as a still-moving chunk of octopus or jar of pickled pigs feet. I'll betcha even Michelangelo had his detractors. (the artist, not the ninja turtle)

                             So what's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten?

                        Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Wait! Don't leave yet! I don't want to gross you guys out; I'd rather make you feel good. This video ought to do it. Not only will it bring a tear or two to your eyes, but it might make you feel a little more grateful for your next meal... no matter what you eat.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Just a Perfect Blendship

Thought for the day:  Friendship is not one big thing... it's a million little things. 

Okay, so maybe friendship doesn't need words. I guess it's possible to maintain a comfortable silence when hanging out with good friends, and I'm sure it wouldn't kill us to keep our mouths shut once in a while. Not that Smarticus and I are ever likely to know that for a fact, mind you, because for the most part, when we're hanging out with any of our friends, we're with talkers, story-swappers, and laugh-until-our-sides-hurt kinda people.

Laughter is the shortest distance between friends. 

We'll be visiting with two very special friends for the next four or five days, which means I won't be online for a while. In fact, I'm not here now. (Dontcha love being able to pre-schedule posts???) Since I'm AWOL and may not get around to responding to your comments or paying return visits to your blogs, I considered disabling the comments for this post, but I decided to let 'em be. If you choose to leave a comment, I promise I will  read it, but no promises about responding or paying a return visit to your blog this time around, okay?

Anyhow, in anticipation of all the fun we're gonna have with our buddies, I got to thinking about friendship. What does it mean to be a friend? What does friendship mean to you? And do our expectations and criteria change over the years?

Never mind. What a stupid question. Of course our criteria changes! When I was a kid, everybody was my best friend. I had absolutely no filters in place, so I was just as friendly with the wonderful people who had my back as I was with those who treated me like crapola. I guess I was kinda like a puppy dog. At some point, though, I reckon we all have to learn that it's okay to choose who we want to be friends with based on more than them simply being alive or giving us an occasional pat on the head.

Friends are the bacon bits in the salad bowl of life. 

That's a good way to put it, isn't it? Delightfully savory bacon bits. Friends are also the decadent frosting on our cake, the people we can depend on, and who can depend on us. Together, we double our joys and halve our sorrows. We get each other.

Good friends don't let you do stupid things... alone.

 Remember the pinkie swears of youth, the shared secrets, and the oh-so-serious ritual of becoming blood sisters and brothers?  I must confess, my girlfriend Caryl and I wanted to be blood sisters, but we weren't all that keen about cutting ourselves. I mean, we were practically joined at the hip since we met in first grade, and we loved to sing together and got into all kinds of fun mischief together for many years, so we simply had to be blood sisters! But... cut ourselves? Uh... no thanks. The guys could play mumblety-peg (Anybody remember that?) and slice themselves in the name of friendship with their ever-present pocket knives all they wanted, but us? Nuh-uh. Ain't no way. We simply picked at our scabs until we got enough of a trickle to mix. (Hush! Same principle, right?)

No more pinkie swears as adults, but we do still share confidences and keep secrets. No more blood brothers and sisters, either. (I still have an aversion to cutting myself, and it's been decades years months days since I've had a ready supply of scabs on my knees.) But after all these years, my childhood blood sister and I still keep in touch, especially since she had some experimental (and successful!) chemotherapy about six years ago. As a side effect, she lost many of her childhood memories, so she asked me to help her fill in the blanks, an undertaking that's brought both of us an incredible amount of pleasure. She even flew down from Maryland to visit earlier this year, and even though it'd been decades since we last saw each other face-to-face, it was as though we'd never been apart.

Friends are people who know the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you forget the words.

When I was eleven years old or so, I learned a little something about friendship. It happened on a beautiful warm evening in late spring, when the scent of lilacs filled the air. My neighbor friend Diane and I were chatting, giggling, and strolling to the elementary school so we could attend a pre-teen dance there, and as was fairly common in our neighborhood, seagulls were providing background music by soaring majestically above us, squawking their familiar cries.

BOMBS AWAY! [morguefile]
And then one of the seagulls zeroed in on us. Or to be more precise, it zeroed in on Diane. Like a miniature dive bomber, that squawking bird swooped down, and FWOP! splatted a big ol' load of multi-colored poop all over her. Unless you've experienced it, you have no idea how much poop a seagull can fwop. Or how colorful it can be. Trust me, it was a lot. And colorful. On her. On the shoulder of her shirt, and all down the front of her. I'm telling you, the expression on her face was priceless, and I, her dear sweet loving friend, wiped most of that nasty stuff off with my bare hands, and then oh-so-gently wrapped my lightweight jacket around her shoulders. "There, there," I crooned in my most empathetic voice. "It'll be all right."

Yeah, right. You guys don't know me at all, do ya?

So sue me. I laughed. I laughed my silly arse off. And then I laughed some more. Diane, alas, failed to see the humor in the situation, and insisted on going back home. So, no dance. We went back to her house and watched TV. I learned right there and then how important it is for friends to laugh... together.

Now, before you judge me too harshly for laughing, this is the same Diane who helped break my parents' bed, and then took off like a scared rabbit and left me to deal with the mess by myself. Besides, if the seagull had pooped on me? I would've laughed just as hard. (Come on... it was funny!)

We are best friends. Always remember that if you fall, I will pick you up... after I finish laughing.

Whether you have one or two good friends, or so many you can't keep count, nothing's more wonderful than spending time with people who get you, no matter how weird you can be. If you're very very lucky, you might even be married to one of them. (Yes, I am very very lucky.)

Best friends know how weird you are, but still choose to be seen with you in public.


No matter how old we are, whether we're very young and fervently declaring our status as best friends forever five minutes after we meet...


or teenagers filled with insecurities, and learning more about ourselves and the world, bonding over common interests and shared secrets...


or old codgers who've shared a lifetime of memories, and a lifetime of priceless friendship...

friendship is a vital part of our lives. As tasty as they may be, we don't need bacon bits on our salads, but we do need friends.

The friends we're gonna be with for the next four or five days? The bestest. We all get each other. We'll play a lot of games, swap a lot of lies, and boyohboy, will we ever laugh. Forget sleep, though. We aren't likely to get a lot of that, because we always squeeze as much as we can out of our time together.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, if a bird happens to poop on any of us, you can count on me. I'm gonna laugh. And even better? So will the other three...

How about you? When you hear the word friend, is there anyone in particular who immediately comes to mind? A childhood friend... a current friend...  a blogging pal... a writing partner... or best of all... someone who's been your friend forever? Wanta tell us a little bit about that person?

               Good friends are hard to find, harder to keep, and impossible to forget.

                   I may respond to your comments next week. (If I can stay awake...)

                                        Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

P.S. In case parts of this post seem familiar to you, what can I say? You've got a great memory! Yes, it's an updated version of a post I did a few years ago.