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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Asphalt Rain, the Scent of a Baby, Cookies, and Memories

Everyone's heard of "comfort food": grilled cheese, tomato soup, mashed potatoes...But what about comfort smells? The things that make you inhale deeply and immediately smile. Take you to that warm, safe place. For some, it's laundry dried on the line. For others, it's chocolate chip cookies in the oven. Or a Tide-drenched blanket. For me, it's the little-boy smell of my son's room. The way my dogs' bellies smell like Fritos after they've napped. How warm vanilla reminds me of my Mom. Smell is such a powerful sense. Even now when I smell Ciara, an inexpensive perfume, images of my mom pop to the forefront of my mind. I can see her, circa 1983, with big hair and an equally big smile. I love when I glimpse a scent of Ciara because it takes me to that place where my Mom used to be and I was a child.

Our senses are powerful things. They can transport us to other worlds, including the past. And, ultimately, where we sit in our daily lives. Whether it's the chlorine-water-logged kid, the intoxicating smell of a baby after a bath, or the smell of coconut anything that reminds us of the beach. Our sense of smell takes us to the past, the future, and forces us to bask in the present. More than sight. More than taste. More than even music, our sense of smell is the ultimate time machine.

In writing, authors often take paragraphs to describe setting or the characteristics of the protagonist, and these things can be important if the setting is key to the story. Or you can't glean some hidden character flaw from dialogue and action. But nothing tugs at the reader as much as an accurate--and short--description of a familiar smell. Something that shoves us into that pocket of our minds where we not only remember, but have visceral reactions. Something as simple as the scent of pine at Christmas. The sharp espresso smell when you walk into a Starbucks. The musty steam that rises in the sun from the street after a quick, hard summer rain. It only takes a few words, and you not only are present in the story, your senses react. And like comfort food, you fall into it effortlessly.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The 3 R's: Rituals. Routine. Repetition.

Rituals. We all have them. Every day after lunch, I have a Reese's cup. I eat the outside first, savoring the chocolate, then eat the middle with the peanut butter. Every morning, I walk downstairs, turn on the coffee maker and open my laptop before my kids wake. My seven-year-old stumbles down soon after in his sleepiness, and says, "Mommy, can I have my chocolate milk?" Every morning.

When my newly-adopted dog, Ellie, sees me put my shoes on and grab my keys, she starts jumping and runs toward my car when I open the door. This winter, my brother-in-law, Mike, and I had an entire conversation on which foot we put the first sock and shoe on and how we walk through our homes at bedtime and check the doors and windows in the exact same order every night.

Rituals. Routines. Repetition. They help life flow. They provide consistency. They define us. Comfort us. Help us through the day with their normalcy and mindlessness.

With writing, routine and rituals force us forward. We sit in the same place that we always sit. We drink coffee from the same mug. We check our email, Facebook, and Twitter in the same order. Then, with external distractions purged, we begin. And the words flow. The monotonous routine frees our minds to the words waiting to be expressed.

When the daily junk haunts us. Taunts us. We procrastinate and find ourselves unable to focus on writing. It's a mental desk-clearing. We need to reassure ourselves that there's nothing that must be tended to before we can breathe and open the Pandora's box. Because once it's opened, there is nothing else. It becomes a singular focus and consumes us. Characters speak to us. Demand to be heard and brought to life. All day, every day, as we shower, drive down the road, and tuck our children into bed, the stories swirl in our minds. Precluding peace until we release them.

Today, I had someone tell me she'd read "In Search of Solomon's Wisdom" (thanks again, Laura Khan! It always humbles me when people read my words). She said such kind words about it and complimented me. I shared with her that it's involuntary. Once a writer's mind opens to the story waiting to be told, it becomes a compulsion. As necessary as breathing.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Contrail and content...fingerprints on the mind

Today was one of those amazing Spring days. Actually, it was Summer-like with the eighty-degree weather. This evening, as I sat outside on our deck, I heard lawn mowers, dogs barking, and children laughing. I love this time of year when everything awakens after the winter hibernation. We see neighbors we haven't seen in months. We plan picnics and get-togethers. Life begins again with us, just as it does with the blooming tulips and daffodils.

As we sat on the deck enjoying the fading sun and the sweet, cool breeze, I saw a plane slice through the clear, blue sky. Contrail in its wake. You know, that puffy, cloud-like trail behind an airplane. Like a wake behind a boat. An echo in a cavern. Fingerprints on glass. Evidence of a presence. It reminded me of the importance of the impression we make. The imprint we leave on the lives of those we come in contact with. Usually, it is this residue that makes the most indelible mark.

Good writing doesn't simply entertain. Although many read for the sake of being entertained. To escape into another world for a little while. Maybe to learn something new or explore another perspective. But truly good writing isn't forgotten. The reader might not remember the exact words, but will remember how the book made her feel. Made her think. Changed her in some way, no matter how small. The amazing Maya Angelo said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” That is true in life and true in writing.

I hope my writing makes people pause. Think. Consider a new idea or perspective. But most importantly, I hope my writing makes an indelible mark on their soul. That while a reader might not remember exactly what I wrote, they will have a visceral reaction and remember the way my writing made them feel.