The Lost Work of Saint Fiona O’Shniggy

Stargazer

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the celebration of the first St. Fiona Day back in 1997. St. Fiona lived in Ireland during the 10th century. She is best known for popularizing the constellation Orion in song and verse. Following her untimely death at the age of 23, she was canonized and became the patron saint of drunkards, poets and stargazers. She is celebrated on April 1.

It was previously thought that all the songs she had written had been destroyed following her death, but Professor Charlotte Gaskell recently uncovered one song that she has attributed to St. Fiona. Gaskell is the world’s preeminent expert on St. Fiona. She unearthed the song when going through artifacts related to the life of the Pope who was responsible for Fiona’s canonization. The man had met Fiona in his youth, and Gaskell had hoped to glean information about the mysterious saint by studying his effects. In her search, Gaskell came across an unusual scrap of paper with a few lines of verse in a scrawl that did not match any of the other writing in the collection. The small piece had been tucked inside an illuminated manuscript that belonged to the Pope. On the back of the scrap was a note in a different hand that simply said, “Fiona O.” The writing matched that of the Pope, and Gaskell was able to date the scrap back to the time that Fiona was thought to be alive.

Gaskell had quite a task deciphering the text as it turned out to be written in code. As Gaskell explains:

Given the risk Fiona took in writing in secret, it is understandable that she would resort to code to protect her work. But what’s curious about this is that there is no indication that her destroyed work was written in code. The existence of this coded piece of verse makes me think there may be more out there waiting to be discovered. This is truly a remarkable find for Fiona scholars and enthusiasts.

No sooner had Gaskell broken the code than she had all the confirmation she needed that she was in fact looking at original work by Fiona O’Shniggy. It was all there in the subject matter. The short bit of verse was about Fiona’s beloved constellation, Orion.

Fiona was known for her love of studying the heavens. In her mind, each point of life represented a person who had died. Of the few accounts we have of her life, we know that she would point to a particular star and tell someone that it represented someone she had lost. Gaskell theorizes that this is what led to her strong connection to stargazing. It was her attempt to connect to the stories of the past, and, in way, her ideas that the stars represented the past preceded human understanding that the light from stars really comes from years ago.

Up until this point, scholars have relied on the limited writings of others for a glimpse into the life of this remarkable saint. Now, this scrap of paper allows Fiona herself to speak through the shadows of history, and we are hearing her voice for the first time in hundreds of years.

Here, for the first time in English, are the words of the beloved saint:

Curious hunter in the night,
Always hungry for the fight.

Laid to rest amongst many a star.

Will life find me there?
Nestled in the quilt of light up in the air?

Though I wander, you are not far.

Up in the sky is where I look,
The words I write could fill a book.

Unfortunately that is where it ends. Gaskell is unsure of whether this is incomplete work by Fiona or if he rest of the poem was lost to time. It is Gaskell’s hope that she will find more writing. Until then, let St. Fiona inspire you to have a drink, look at the stars and write a poem.

As Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental.” St. Fiona herself was born out of coincidence: the retelling of a bad joke about the constellation Orion, late night discussion between two friends and vivid imaginations. By chance, these things combined in the perfect moment to give birth to St. Fiona. As with people like Kilgore Trout, Thursday Next and Charlotte Gaskell, St. Fiona exists in the world of fiction, but don’t tell her that. She thinks she is quite real, thank you very much!

Happy St. Fiona Day!

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Ever since the first St. Fiona Day in 1996, my friends and I have celebrated this little known saint on April 1. While her day may coincide with April Fools’ Day, I assure you that she is no joke. One day back in 1996 when two young women were hanging out in their dorm room, the story of St. Fiona made itself known to them. Call it divine intervention or a whimsy of imagination, but that was the moment that St. Fiona Day was invented. This story is dedicated to Ann, the co-discoverer of St. Fiona. Here’s to our 19th year celebrating this day! May the spirit of St. Fiona inspire poems, stargazing & tasty beverages!

St. Fiona O’Shniggy of the Village Kincaid
Patron Saint of Drunkards, Poets & Stargazers
St. Fiona Day: April 1

St. Fiona O’Shniggy is the patron saint of drunkards, poets and stargazers. She lived during the tenth century in Ireland when she popularized the constellation Orion in song and verse. Unfortunately her songs have not survived over the centuries as they were destroyed shortly after her death at the tender age of 23. After her death, Fiona’s ideas were found to be against those held by the Catholic Church. This led to her eventual excommunication and the destruction of all of her work. Fiona wrote extensively in her journal about the equality that should exist between women and men. These private journals were found by her uncle shortly after her death. Unfortunately, he passed them on to the Catholic Church, thinking this is what Fiona would have wanted due to her extreme devotion to God. Although this is what led to the destruction of her writings, brief glimpses into Fiona’s life and ideas live on through the writings of her uncle. After handing over the journals to the church, he was so moved by his gifted niece that he put down his own thoughts on her writings in his journals and letters.

Fiona had learned to write in secret from her brother, who was four years her senior. Very few women were allowed to write at this time in Ireland. Ever since she was a child, Fiona was fascinated by everything around her in nature and in the human spirit. Fiona would often wander around at night, looking up at the stars, and Orion came to be her favorite constellation. In a letter to her brother she remarked, “Something so beautiful must surely be a gift from God.” She wrote seventeen poems and six songs about it. Several of her songs were turned into drinking songs by the locals that she helped when they passed out drunk in one of the many local pubs. As a devout Catholic and the daughter of two alcoholic parents, Fiona felt it was important to help those less fortunate than her (this of course included the town drunks).

As for her fascination with Orion, it eventually killed her at the age of 23. One night she was out wandering through an open field, admiring her favorite grouping of stars. She never saw the well below her feet, and fell down it. Nobody knows how long she was there. They found scratch marks on the side of the well like she had tried to get out. The most remarkable thing about the scene was the position of the body. Fiona’s head was tilted up as if to take one last glance from earth at Orion. The last that anyone heard from her was what she said to her brother before she left on that fateful night. She told him that she was going to look at her beautiful Orion that God had given to her and all the world.

Several years after her excommunication, a man that she knew when he was a child became Pope. He had remembered the wonderful soda bread that Fiona had made for him as well as her stimulating philosophical conversation, and he figured that maybe she was not as bad as the Catholic Church originally had said she was. His first official act was to see to Fiona’s canonization.

UPDATE : Want more about St. Fiona? Check out this April 2017 post, which includes part of a lost poem of St. Fiona and more details about her life.

In Praise of Handwritten Letters

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We are a society obsessed with communicating quickly. News barely happens before there is a story about, and whole conversations happen via text message. Electronic communication has evolved so fast that email already seems antiquated. But in a sea of messages zooming around invisibly from device to device, the handwritten letter still manages to survive—even if its not nearly as popular as it once was.

I admit that I regularly use text and email to communicate with people. Three of my best friends and I are spread out around the country and regularly have a conversation going that bounces back and forth between group text and email, and I like how easy it is for us to be present in each other’s lives because of technology. But sometimes the urge to slow down pulls at me, and I pick up pen and paper and write.

It’s strange to think of a time when the primary form of communication was the handwritten letter. Rather than checking Facebook or even picking up the phone, people would rely on the mail to deliver news of major events in their loved ones’ lives. I think this is part of what has contributed to the thrill of seeing a letter in the mail. Even when I was in college in the mid-90s, my friends and I would still exchange letters. But with email quickly gaining popularity at that time, letters started to become infrequent and much of what used to be written by hand was typed out and sent off through cyberspace.

Because so much communication happens electronically now, mail is mostly junk and bills. It has become rare to see the familiar writing of a friend scrawled across the front of an envelope and tucked amidst a stack of grocery store ads and requests to donate to a wildlife charity. Finding a handwritten letter in the mail brings a smile to my face, and I find myself rushing inside so I can curl up in a chair with the letter. It does not matter that I saw pictures of that friend’s latest trip on Facebook earlier that day or even if we exchanged a few texts the day before.

Writing by hand requires a different kind of thinking than typing on a keyboard. For one thing, it is a slower process, and I think that is what makes it more meditative. Writing by hand also takes away the distractions that often come with staring at a screen. Gone are the temptations to check Facebook or to watch cute puppy videos. It’s just you, a pen and paper. To write someone a letter is to say communication with them is worth your undivided time.

I have a few friends who appreciate the handwritten letter, so we try to exchange letters on a regular basis. I have to admit that I have been lax on my letter writing in the last few months, so I have made an effort this week to get caught up. Two nights ago I sat with a friend’s letter from September in front of me. Yeah, that is way too long without writing back. I cleared my desk and focused on the page in front of me. It was a relaxing process. Online communication is busy and full of flashing lights and noises. Letter writing carries none of that and it felt quite freeing to get back to that form of communication.

When I did a semester in London back in college, I often wandered through the British Museum and looked at the old manuscripts and letters of some of the greatest British writers. They were beautiful handwritten records of the creative process and the lives these great minds lived. I think we lose out on that in an era where most of our writing happens on computers, tablets and smart phones. I save the handwritten letters I get from people, and I enjoy going back through them years later. It is as though a part of that person from that particular moment is captured in the loops and lines of their handwriting—you just can’t get that same feeling from an old email.

Set aside some time to write to a friend. Even if it is a note that you write to someone you live with and slip into their bag or a letter that you send to the other side of the world, take a moment to put pen to paper.

Photo by Tim Pershing

Short Story Break

I’ve been quiet here on my book blog for a month because I have been focusing on my HR/workplace writing. I am reading and working on my fiction when I have time, and I have some interesting posts planned for this blog in the next few months. Until then, enjoy this short story I dug out from a few years ago. Happy reading!

Rearview Mirror

By Stephanie Hammerwold

He was ordinary at first glance, but that changed the more she took him in, framed, as he was, in her rearview mirror. His grey flannel jacket blended in with the upholstery of the backseat, and he seemed to wear the sort of things she saw others wearing as they crossed Pacific Avenue in order to avoid the college kids harassing passersby into handing over credit card numbers for monthly donations to Greenpeace. He was skinny. Too skinny. But she tried not to let it bother her too much as she sucked in her own stomach.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“Is that it? You’re not scared.”

“No,” she laughed and turned the keys in the ignition.

“A strange man is in your backseat, and you’re not scared?” His voice was soft. It was reassuring in a way. Someone with a voice like that was not likely to pull out a gun. She could see him having a knife in his pocket, something he most likely grabbed out of his kitchen drawer before leaving his undecorated studio apartment that afternoon. But that was just for protection from the outside world and not for use inside this car. With the messy black hair and intense blue eyes, he looked young in this body.

“Just get on with it. Carjack me or whatever it is you plan to do. I’ve had a long day.”

“You? A long day? What do you do? Sit behind some desk in an office sending email and bossing people around to compensate for your own inferiorities?”

“Wow, you know me so well. It’s like we’ve been friends for a really long time,” she said, coating her voice with the forced cheeriness one often found among the staff at big box stores selling bed linens and colanders.

“Really, what do you do?” There was such disdain dripping from his voice that she thought for a moment he might decide to get out of the car.

“I listen to people whine all day—that’s what I do. You don’t like the smell of your coworker’s cologne? Well, come complain to me about it for a half hour! You don’t like the way your supervisor looks at you as though she doesn’t trust you, and you just want someone to vent to? Well, she probably has good reason not to trust you. From what I hear you’re often late, and you might be taking food without paying for it.”

“You work in HR then?”

“Uh, yeah. You’re a regular genius.” She found sarcasm as comfortable as the old grey sweatshirt she often put on as soon as she got home. Not tonight though—instead she was on an improvised road trip with a stranger in her backseat.

“Just drive,” he said.

“I am, and I was planning to regardless of what you requested. That is generally why people get in cars, isn’t it?” The second floor of the garage only held a scattering of cars at this time. “If you’re going to take my car, there are a few things I want to get out of the trunk before you do.”

She kept watch on him through the rearview mirror as she drove down the ramp and out toward the street. He kept clicking a retractable pen in his left hand, and it annoyed her even though she had the same nervous habit. He was looking back and forth and occasionally at her eyes in the rearview mirror where she would keep watch on him when she could take a glance away from the road. She drove toward home at first, mostly because it was what she usually did at this time.

“Where are you going?”

“Home.”

“Get on highway one and head south.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?!”

“Excuse me?”

“There’s just so much traffic at this time. I don’t normally swear. Sorry.”

“Yeah, I can tell. Just drive.”

She responded by heading up River Street toward the highway instead of left on Water as she usually did. The sun was long gone and light in the car was limited to what seeped in from headlights and streetlights. She had no fantasies of befriending this strange man and running off with him somewhere, but she was intrigued nonetheless and continued to take in what she could by the small piece of him she could see in the rearview mirror.

“What’s your story?” she asked as she drove south, weaving in and out of the Wednesday night traffic. She passed a man in a Lexus hitting his steering wheel and singing along to what was no doubt something as unexpected as Jewel or the Dixie Chicks.

“If you keep asking questions, I’m going to hurt you.”

“And that would get you where? Can you even drive?”

“Of course I can. Shut up.”

“I’m not going to shut—”

The headlights from the car behind her glinted off the blade and flashed in her right eye. He held it up just long enough for her to catch that glimpse in the mirror before  dropping it back down by his side in the back seat.

“Ha! I thought that would shut you up. Now drive.”

“At least you know what you want. Besides, you’re not going to use that on me. It’s just not you.”

“You’re right.”

The way the light tripped across the blade had momentarily shifted her focus from the road ahead. What did she have to lose by the actions of this man? She could keep driving south or somehow end this and go home to an empty house, heat up some questionable leftovers and continue to work on that bottle of wine she had opened two days ago. She looked ahead to the curve and the road, dotted here and there by the red glow of taillights and brake lights, and she made her decision. “So, I really want to know: what’s your story? This carjacking thing? It seems sort of, well, you know, sort of out of character for someone like you.”

“Who says this is a carjacking?”

“Oh, just a guess. Why else are you here?”

“Are you one of those religious fanatics who is going to talk to me about Jesus and get me to cry about my lost childhood or something?”

“Far from it,” she laughed. “Just another lonely human being looking for something or someone to connect to.”

“I just need to get out of town.”

“Don’t we all,” she said more to herself. “Why me? And how’d you get in my car?”

“I have my ways, and this just seemed like a good fit.”

“You’re not going to kill me, are you?”

“Probably not.”

They drove on in silence for a while, mostly because neither of them could think of anything to say. By the time they reached Moss Landing, she caught him staring out toward the ocean. The water was calm that night, and it was almost as though she could make a sharp right out there and continue driving across the smooth surface, but such things were an illusion. She looked back in the rearview mirror and saw only the scattered headlights of the cars behind her and kept driving south.

Reading the World

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I just returned from a three-day road trip that included time in San Luis Obispo and its surrounding area. It was a quick trip, but it has been one of the more satisfying road trips my travel partner and I have gone on in the last several years. We had been working really hard lately, and I know we were both feeling a bit stressed and worn down because of it. It was time to get away.

We settled on San Luis Obispo pretty quickly and hit the road with a hotel reservation, a plan to see an old friend of mine and a list of possibilities. And somehow things fell into place.

Getting out of the corporate world has given me the chance to travel more. The corporate world made me feel trapped. I was never really good at taking time off when I worked in that environment. I would end up with a huge paid time off bank because I rarely managed to take time off to travel. I think many of us start to feel this way. Vacation becomes something you plan for once a year if you are lucky. In my corporate life, I was my work. My world often felt limited to my life in the context of my job. In my new life, work is simply one thing that I do.

Having the ability to write and travel more has opened up more possibilities for understanding who I am.  I am at home on the road, and all the miles I have traveled in the last couple years have reminded me that I am not the kind of person who can be chained to a desk. When we go out in the world and see and experience new places, we are reading the world. When work is all we do, it reduces the chance of being able to experience this. I gain a deeper understanding of my own life through reading about the lives of others. For me, this involves a healthy balance of books and experiencing the world first hand.

This is not to say that everyone should quit their job and make the move to self employment. It is not for everyone, and there are certainly ways to live life beyond a job without making the same leap I did. The key is to step beyond the bounds of the identity that our work and our jobs create for us. We are more than that, and there are countless live and stories out in the world that are waiting to be read.

Read. Travel. Write.

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Committing to Being a Writer

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Somewhere around the age of 9 or 10, I had the realization that people got paid to write the books that I loved. As a job, it seemed too good to be true. Coming up with stories and spending time immersed in fictional worlds seemed like a dream job, and that’s what I decided I wanted to do when I grew up. I found a notebook and wrote on the cover “Around the Neighborhood.” I drew some basic houses on the cover and a few stick figures walking around. My substandard artwork didn’t bother me because I was aiming to be an artist with words, not paint pens. I grabbed my favorite purple ballpoint pen and went and sat in the backyard waiting for a story to come to me through an overheard conversation from an adjoining yard or maybe even a helicopter flying low overhead if I was lucky. I remember writing something like this in my notebook that day:

Everything appears to be normal and calm in the neighborhood today. Perhaps a story will show up tomorrow.

My first foray into finding stories in my world did not yield the great American novel. I’m still working on that. After graduating from college, I quickly realized that no one was going to hire me to write novels for an hourly wage. After a couple jobs and grad school for an MA in women’s studies, I ended up embarking on a career in human resources–that’s quite a leap from the girl who was thrilled at the idea that people could get paid to write. Sure I did some writing in my HR job by drafting policies and managing the employee newsletter, but that hardly fulfilled the creative side of someone like me whose list of close friends includes some fictional people.

Back in about 2008 I read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I had not read anything by King before because I had thought I would not care for his brand of horror. I was wrong about that. On Writing was my gateway to King’s novels, and I have since read quite a few of his books, including a journey through his Dark Tower series in both the written and audio formats. At the point I read King’s book, I was doing very little writing beyond what was required in the course of my job. I could not remember the last time I had written something creative. King has a simple piece of advice that was a wake-up call for me:

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut (139).

I was fulfilling the reading part, but I was not writing a lot. In fact, unless you count a meal break or timekeeping policy, I was not writing at all. It is hard to call yourself a writer when you don’t write. I knew I needed to change that, even if it meant plugging away at a story a few pages at a time on weekends. I also decided I needed to tackle something big: a novel that I wrote over the course of many weekends. I ended up with a complete first draft of a novel that involved two main characters who travel through time. It needs a lot of work, and there are huge continuity problems, but I am proud of it. I don’t know that I will ever go back and make it publication ready, but it has given me the confidence to realize that writing a whole novel is something I can do.

I recently got back to a novel I had started about two years ago. It’s only about 50 pages at this point. With this story, I took King’s advice once again:

Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex , and work (157).

King also stresses the importance of situation in a story. The idea for my current novel was a mix of a dream I had and some ideas I had been mulling over on my walk from the car to my office one morning when I was still living in Santa Cruz. I came up with a situation and started developing characters based on this question: what would my friend and I do if we were stuck in this situation that I had dreamed up? From there, my novel was born. Unfortunately, with the time it takes to build my business, it is still a struggle to find the time to work on my fiction.

One of the challenges for many fiction writers is that, unless you are established enough to warrant an advance, you do not get paid for all your hours of work on a novel until a publisher decides they want to publish your book. Even with self-publishing, a novelist won’t start making money until people buy the finished product. This means that writing gets pushed to the bottom of the list after all the things that can put money in the bank right away.

But in the last few weeks, the writer part of me has been putting up a fight. When the writer in your brain makes a lot of noise, it is funny how you can find time to write. It means sitting at my computer to write when I am inclined to stare at the TV or click through cute animal pictures on my phone. It also means taking the risk to send what I write out into the world.

I am writing this post as a reminder that this is a commitment that both you and I need to make to whatever form our creative expression takes. Reach down deep in your memories and remember who you were and who you wanted to be. If there has always been a piece of you that wanted to be a writer or artist, embrace that. It’s not even necessary to quit your day job to make the commitment. Even if you only have time to write only a page a day, you will have 365 pages by the end of the year–enough to have a whole novel.

Work Cited:
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Pocket Books, 2002. Print.

Short Story Break

I recently submitted a story to The First Line, a journal that asks writers to submit stories using a common first line. I stumbled upon this journal a few years ago and have made a couple unsuccessful attempts at submission. It is a fun concept for a journal, so I encourage you to visit there site and try to write a story based on the first lines provided. For this submission, I took a story I wrote a couple years ago and made a couple changes to make it fit the first line. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. Happy reading!


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By Stephanie Hammerwold

Laura liked to think she was honest with herself; it was everyone else she lied to. Everyone did such things the moment they picked out an outfit and put on makeup before stepping out of their homes each morning. Why should she be any different?

She had checked the weather the night before and laid out her outfit on the antique chair in the corner of her room. She had inherited that chair at age 16 after her grandmother had died. Her relationship with that chair had lasted longer than her marriage.

She sat down at her vanity, and held up necklaces to pick one that would go with the outfit. Pearls. It would have to be the pearls this time. Laura was a bit hesitant to wear them because it seemed like something her mother would do, but she was a middle aged woman living on her own now, so why not? After fastening the clasp, she stepped back to view the effect in the mirror. Not bad for a woman in her fifties. She took in the whole outfit, something purchased at Talbot’s—a camel colored sweater set and black pants. Was it too fancy for coffee? She thought not. After all she wanted to impress upon this man that she was not the kind of woman to show up in jeans the first time she met someone. Oh, she really was starting to sound like her mother.

She had moved here from Minnesota, but considered this area her home. With the exception of a brief stint back in Minnesota to tend to her ailing parents, she had lived here for 30 years. Well, she had been in Aptos up until a few years ago, but no one back home knew where Aptos was. Now though she found herself in a lovely triplex in Capitola. There was space for a garden where her cat could chase grasshoppers. She was free of the big house in Aptos and the cocktail parties and the now ex-husband that had come with it. Her children were grown, having moved on to start their own lives in big houses.

Yes, it was a good life, but she missed companionship. So when her friend Linda offered to set her up with Frank, she said yes. She’d never gone on a blind date. Well, this wasn’t really a blind date, was it? They were just meeting for coffee in the afternoon. That was hardly a date. Oh, if her mother could see her now in the pearls and the sweater set, getting ready to go on a date. All these stories of women becoming their mothers—and here she was in the middle of it—doing something her mother wouldn’t dream of but all the while wearing the costume of Evelyn Winston. Even in the wake of divorce, Evelyn would have stayed single out of loyalty to the institution of marriage. But, as it happened, her parents died within a couple months of each other, Evelyn leaving this world first.

Laura and Frank had talked briefly on the phone and had agreed to meet at a nearby Starbucks. Normally Laura cared little for such places. She liked plain coffee. Sure, she could easily afford a four-dollar-a-day coffee habit, but was it worth it? Laura had made a fortune on real estate, which had given her the option to retire at age 53. What with that and the life insurance policies that her parents had taken out early in their lives, she didn’t need a man to help keep her financially comfortable, and she hoped that Frank was the kind of man who could read that in the pearls around her neck.

She recognized him as soon as she walked in. He was standing back from the register, staring at the menu. He was in jeans and a dark canvas jacket that covered a checked shirt. His hair was grey, a bit messy and long as though to give the impression he had spent the morning toiling away in a dark room. He had emailed her a picture the day before, and she had done the same. It was all on the pretense of being able to recognize each other without having to do any of this nonsense like, “I’ll be wearing a red sweater.” Middle aged people just didn’t do that kind of thing, did they?

“Laura?”img_19991 (1)

“Hi, Frank. You ordered yet?” She knew he hadn’t ordered, but she said just to have something to say.

“No. What would you like?”

“Just a coffee for me.”

“All right then. Why don’t you go and grab that table over there, and I’ll get our drinks.”

The tables were little wooden things with similarly surfaced chairs. It was as though they didn’t want their patrons to stay very long. When Frank arrived at the table, they began with the small talk customary to such interactions. It was the kind of conversation where the weather took center stage. They finally progressed to the life story stage, careful to share only what was necessary. It was as though they were reading from a report by someone who had only gotten to know them by sifting through the letters and artifacts of their human existence on Earth.

“So, that’s how I got into photography—followed a pretty girl and eventually married her. I don’t have the wife anymore, but I do have my cameras.” He gave a forced chuckle as he waved his reading glasses in his outstretched hand.

People really did like to sum up their life stories in such quaint little chuckles—especially at this age. Even the great Evelyn Winston did such things. Laura ran her fingers over the pearls at her neck and wondered how Eveyln would react to seeing her only daughter having coffee with a photographer who probably didn’t own a single business suit—such a departure from Laura’s ex-husband. Frank wasn’t bad really. He was a bit pompous and thought himself quite the artist, but what harm was there in that?

“Well, I really only got into real estate because I could make it work while my kids were young. The older they got, the more I was able to invest myself in the work.” Laura surprised herself by adding her own quaint chuckle. “I rent my own place now. It was strange, you know, renting after only ever having lived in a home that we owned. But it’s nice not having to worry about the little things. Let the landlord deal with it, right?”

Laura continued to sip from her coffee cup or at least pretend to. The coffee had long ago run out. But she kept up the pretense of sipping just to have something to do while Frank went on talking about the places he had travelled, even landing a few choice assignments for National Geographic.

“More coffee?” She didn’t want more and instead requested water, more to enjoy the few moments of silence that would come when he left the table. When he came back, she resolved to wrap things up. This blind date thing hadn’t been so bad, and maybe Frank was the kind of person that could give her companionship. He didn’t seem interested enough in other people to get in the way of her maintaining the independence she had grown accustomed to. They agreed to meet again, next time over dinner. He would call her after he returned from his trip to see his daughter in Seattle.

Laura made her way out to her car, content in the story of the retired real estate agent—knowing that it was just as implausible as Frank’s tale of photography. It would do though, as long as she played at being human. These little stories, the lies people told themselves and each other, they were all a part of human existence. Frank, being what he was, and Laura, being what she was, were no different now.

 

What I Do When I Should be Writing

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I often wonder if Charlotte Brontë would have written Jane Eyre if she had lived in a time that had the Internet and cute animal videos. I’m sure writers have always had to fight distractions, but I think living in the age of the Internet takes distraction to a whole new level. When all it takes is a simple click to open up a browser window, it is easy to be lulled into checking Facebook or rewatching an episode of Charlie the Unicorn. Although, I think I am being too hard on the Internet. There are plenty of other distractions out there.

It is not that I do not want to write. When I get in the zone, I quite enjoy the writing process. It is just that it can often be hard to get those first few sentences written. And sometimes the story feels stuck in my head to the point that it paralyzes my fingertips at the keyboard. These are the worst moments for distraction to creep in and remind you that you should clean your closet or reorganize your sock drawer. It was amazing how tidy my sock drawer was back when I was writing my master’s thesis. My place is never cleaner than when I am in writing mode.

Of course distraction has its advantages. When I am struggling with words, I have often closed my computer and suddenly realized I really need to go for a walk or head to the gym to workout. Unfortunately any health benefits from the extra exercise are probably canceled out by the snacking I do while writing.

Distraction is probably something most of us deal with regardless of the type of work we do. It often seems that there is something better to do when we have to sit down to work. But I think distraction is a particular problem for the writer. But maybe distraction is not actually a “problem.” Thinking is a big part of the writing process. When I am working on mundane tasks (such as sock drawer organizing), my mind is usually involved in more than what my hands are busy with. I am thinking of characters and how they might work through whatever dilemma I have presented them with or how I will write myself out of a seemingly impossible plot. Perhaps distraction is the writer’s way of giving the mind the chance to sort through the story before putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

I have heard a lot of writers talk about going for walks while writing. I have resorted to walking quite a few times when I get stuck on an idea, and I realized it is precisely the kind of distraction that brings about some of my best thinking. It gets me away from my computer and things like Facebook, YouTube and other sites that don’t fuel creativity. Walking is a distraction that is part of the process rather than being a problem. This holds true whether I am working on my creative writing or my HR/workplace writing. Perhaps it is really a matter of finding the right kind of distraction.

But today it is raining outside, so I don’t really want to go for a walk, and I noticed that my closet could use some organizing, so I better finish up this blog.

Reading & Writing Resolutions for 2015

I am not usually one for New Year’s resolutions. New Year’s Eve never quite seems to live up to the anticipation. We countdown to midnight only to find out that January 1 is just another day. Perhaps I’m being a bit too cynical about the new year, but I have never really been the kind of person to use the change to a new year as an opportunity to reset–except when it comes to reading and writing goals.

Every year I have a plan to read more books. I think every book nerd has that goal, and there never seems to be enough time to read all the books we want to. I got Stephen King’s Revival for Christmas, so that’s on my reading list for 2015. I also really want to read Diving for Pearls by Kathleen B. Jones. Of course I always have a long list of favorites I want to reread, which includes Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions among other things.

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I just moved to a new place. I’m not a big fan of packing and moving (who is?), but I do enjoy unpacking my books at a new location and spending time figuring out where they will go. Getting my books set up by the new year is a big goal for me. There is an art to a good book shelf that requires a little more than just throwing books up on a shelf. I prefer alphabetical order, but I like to get creative with stacking and placing pictures and curios on the shelves along with my books.

As for my creative writing, I am starting a new project. It’s in the realm of creative nonfiction. I am not sure yet if it will be something I see through to the end. I have many unfinished writing projects that started off as good ideas. Somewhere in the depths of my computer and on the pages of notebooks lurk zombies, time travelers and other fictional children waiting for me to finish their stories. This new idea is more personal, and I feel strongly about seeing this through to the end. For now I have a new notebook specifically for this writing project because I believe every new writing project begins with the perfect notebook. Just as the wand chooses the wizard, so too does the notebook choose the writer.

Happy New Year! May 2015 be filled with creativity and lots of books.

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