Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Morning News

Last Saturday morning, my grown son and I had one thing on our agenda — hanging out at his favorite Lexington, KY bagel shop. It was a busy, savor-your-Saturday-morning kind of place.  I ordered the double bourbon: a maple bourbon bagel with maple bourbon cream cheese chased with a hot mocha. He ordered the daily special: sourdough salt.

We claimed a table-for-two in the middle of the shop.  A few minutes later a two-year-old girl and her parents occupied the table next to us. She was beyond cute: little blonde pigtails high on her head and pink and green frog socks.  In her toddler restlessness, she began to wander a bit, trying out nearby tables. Her daddy laid his newspaper on the table and caught her eye. “Do you want to read the paper?” he asked. I was puzzled at his question. What toddler is interested in the newspaper? To my surprise, she came to him immediately, crawled into his lap and he began to share the morning’s news with her.  He made up his own captions and stories for the photos and pointed out a myriad of things on each page.  He even made the classifieds interesting for her.

To my son, a veteran newspaper journalist, the moment was totally precious. “Start them early,” he said to me, “reading the newspaper. Parents like that keep us in business.”

Father and daughter had no iPhone, no games, no toys, and no books.  Just the two of them, reading their newspaper together.

Had I taken a photo it would show a daddy cherishing his little girl and including her in his world. And it would show a little girl enthralled by her daddy as he brings the newspaper to life for her. They’ve obviously done this many, many times.

I’ve ventured down a few trails as I ponder that morning. I’ve thought about the importance of routine and ritual in a young child’s life and in the life of their family. Sometimes I think we as adults are so busy with our own lives that we don’t take the time to establish ordinary habits with our kids. I suspect the little bagel girl with the frog socks will be reading the paper with her daddy for years to come.  In the near future I can see her finding letters and numbers she recognizes.  And not long after that she’ll be finding words she knows and sounding out others with the help of her daddy. As a young adult she’ll be reading the paper with her morning coffee because it’s what she does. It’s what she’s always done. The only difference will be that the cream cheese from her bagel won’t be spread from ear to ear across her face.

More important than my rabbit trails is the what I saw first hand:

  • a parent present with his child
  • a parent including a child in his world, rather than shoving the child aside as an interruption or a bother
  • a child enthralled with her daddy

The Saturday advice from the bagel shop is quite simple:

Show up: be present with your children, your grandchildren, your nieces, nephews, or whatever children come into your life.

Do your work: include them in what you are doing and fully participate when you are asked to play with them. Create daily rituals.

Claim your lives: You — and the children — will be rewarded with memorable moments.

Until next Tuesday . . .



Artistic Obsession

Chris Guillebeau says, “Make your art your obsession. Fall in love with it. Experience withdrawal symptoms when you don’t give it attention.”

Obsession is not necessarily a positive word for us. We think of obsessive-compulsive disorder or obsessions that accompany some mental conditions or obsessions that take over a life, that take a person to the realm of unrealities.

However, obsession with our art can create an environment of focus, intense interest, and uncommon creativity. Your art may be painting, or needlework, or music, or writing, or carpentry, or cooking, or photography, or landscaping, or organizing the family archives. Our artistic obsession is the point of engagement, when we become one with the art we are creating, when the world fades away, would-be distractions go unnoticed, and time has no value. We enter our art and are consumed and broadened and deepened and sensitized to its mysteries and nuances.

Our art becomes romance — we can’t imagine life without it and our time apart from it feels like neglect or abandonment. Take our art away and we flounder at what to do with ourselves.

The trouble with our art obsession is that there’s always more to be done, more to be created, more to explore. Like any skill we want to master, practice is required. Daily practice. Practice not focused on results as much as on process: how do I get closer to where I want to be with my art.

If gardening is your place of artistic expression, you first have to learn about your specific environment (soil, weather, exposure). Then you have to discover what types of plants prefer your environment. And then you must start small. As a beginner, this is not the time to landscape the entire yard.  Learn your art in a little space. Create a small success. You can expand later when you’ve learned the basics.

Here’s the best part: your obsession with your art, whatever it is, will reward you with insight, creativity, and expression.

Give yourself permission to start small. Your purpose is not to be the master gardener or Rembrandt or Mozart or Hemingway. Set your sights on falling in love with your art, paying attention to the details, mastering each step along the way. Comparisons with others will only serve to distract you.

Some questions you might ask yourself are:

  • Do I know more than I did yesterday?
  • How can I learn more about my art?
  • Am I focused on a small success?
  • Am I allowing my art to obsess me, at least for part of each day?
  • Am I in love with my art?

Now show up. Love your art. Let it claim your life.

Until next Tuesday . . .





A Query for Mr. Webster

We’re an irregular pair, Charlie and I.  She’s younger, I’m older. She’s an artist, I’m an accountant (not exactly, but I could be). She loves improv, I create spreadsheets.  She pursues convoluted paths; I search for the most efficient route between Point A and Point B.  She’s a painstakingly meticulous writer, studying her craft before putting words on paper. I write first, then study, and finally edit my learnings into my work.

Charlie and I met by accident when we each made our maiden appearance at a writers’ group and she sat next to me. Unbeknownst to us, this was a group of romance and science fiction authors. They admittedly didn’t know what to do with creative nonfiction writers. Throughout the evening we muttered to each other since most of the discussion didn’t apply to our work. We discovered we are quick-witted, dry-humored, and incredibly funny.

After a few months of writing together Charlie and I formed our own group. We work hard and laugh outrageously. Others drift in and out of our group, coming, we suspect, for our entertainment value. As Charlie and I throw irreverent barbs across the table they seem reticent to jump into the conversation. Our deep respect for each other is not always obvious.

Enter Marcia, a professional critic I hired to provide critique on my “work in progress,” which she does ably and constructively.  “I believe that a more lyrical style is called for,” she wrote. I begin to laugh even before I finish the sentence. Actually I guffaw.

I call Charlie. “That’s hilarious, absolutely hilarious!” she chortles.

Neither of us is surprised at Marcia’s assessment. Charlie stresses that her own writing is too lyrical. I struggle to get beyond the bare, bottom-line, cut-to-the-chase facts. Our writing styles are an on-going source of late-night conversations. I envy her style.

“Being lyrical is genetic,” I spoof to Charlie.  “It must be. You have it and I don’t. If I had that gene my writing would be better.”

She thinks I am serious about this genetic stuff. It’s just wishful thinking on my part.

“My writing needs more lyricality,” I continue.

“Lyricality?  You just made that word up, didn’t you,” she retorts.

“Of course I did!” I reply, pleased with my originality. “Lyricality – yes that’s what I need.”

We spatter the word throughout our remaining conversation, testing our verbal acuity.  We like the way it resonates through our phones and wraps around our tongues.

As soon as we hang up I pull Webster from my shelf of reference books. How many variations of lyric are in his book of words? Exactly eight: lyric n, lyrical adj, lyrically adv, lyricalness n, lyricism n, lyricist n, lyrism n, and lyrist n.

Lyricality is not there, nor are any of the other words arriving in my brain, breaking through like the sun on the first day of creation. Because I am a genetic list maker, I gather my new words into an email for Charlie.

  • Lyricity n: the state, condition, or instance of drama or exuberance
  • Lyricality n: lyricity
  • Lyricatiousness n: over-the-top emotional expression
  • Lyritome n: a large, scholarly work highly regarded for its lyric content
  • Lyrismatic adj: having the characteristic of lyrics
  • Lyricotometer n: an instrument for measuring the lyrical quality of prose or verse; the unit of measure is a Charlie, with “one” designating the lowest possible lyric content and “five” the highest level of lyricism
  • Lyricient n: (a) one who is skillful in creating a lyrical response, (b) one who is genetically lyrical, a lyricist by birth
  • Lyricate vb: to be lyrical, expressive, emotional in art form, (b) to make lyrical
  • Lyrication n: the process of being lyrical in song, prose, or verse
  • Lyricable adj: in a lyric manner
  • Lyricability n: lyricism, containing intense personal expressions, feelings, or emotions
  • Lyricy n: the condition of being a lyricist, not to be confused with lunacy
  • Lyricious adj: highly expressive, exuberant, emotional
  • Lyricite n: one who plagiarizes the lyric creations of others
  • Lyritard n: an article of clothing, patented by The Tony Company, guaranteed to intensify your lyrismatic state

Now that I have identified and defined these words, I feel certain they will appear in Webster’s next edition.  Just in case, I am sending this list to him today, noting their first day of usage was October 13, 2009.

Until next Tuesday . . .



Word Play

I love words – and I admire people who have a large vocabulary. In our weekly Scrabble DSC00462game I am amazed at the word-knowledge one woman has – and she always knows the definitions.

I also notice unfamiliar words or unusual usage in the books I read — some of them are noted on my blog-site tab “Words, Words, and More Words.”

At Sunday brunch our conversation quickly switched from politics to words when a friend used the word “panoply1” in a real sentence. “I know that word,” I said, “but I’ve never used it. It’s sort of like ‘plethora2′ isn’t it?”

“Sort of,” she replied, “but it’s wider, more universal.”

“Plethora I know and use,” I said, “like when I have a plethora of vowels at Scrabble.  The rest of the time I have a paucity3 of vowels.”

Then she threw in the word “abstemious4″. “It was one of my father’s favorite words,” she said. Certainly a word I’ve never heard of, let alone used. More discussion.

“And I love the word ‘oomphaloskepsis5‘.” I am now writing words on a napkin so I don’t forget this conversation. She spelled the word slowly to make sure I got all the letters in the right order. “It means navel gazing.” When I got home I discovered the word wasn’t in my Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (eleventh edition). I learned later I had spelled the word incorrectly. I probably won’t be integrating it into my daily conversation.

All of this word talk reminded me of a phone conversation with my son some months ago. He’s a journalist, I’m a writer, and we were discussing metaphors6. Such things happen with literary types. The creative juices began to flow and “multiphor7” crept into the conversation. “If you can have metaphors, you can certainly have multiphors,” he said. My brain is considering multifours.

“Of course you can,” I said. “Why not?”

“And we could have metafives8,” he suggested, introducing a new dimension. Perhaps, to be consistent, it should be spelled metaphives . . .

After a while, we weren’t sure if we were discussing real words or making them up as we talked. It really didn’t matter.

All of this is to say that it’s a good thing, a very good thing, to consider new words – whether real or made up. Such words take us beyond our usual thinking and cause us to consider new concepts, new ideas . . . perhaps even a different kind of universe.

Heard any interesting words lately?

Until next Tuesday . . .

* * *

1panoply: a magnificent or impressive array

2plethora: excess or abundance

3paucity: scarcity, dearth, smallness of number or quantity

4abstemious: marked by restraint

5omphaloskepsis: contemplation of one’s navel as an aid to meditation

6metaphor: a figure of speech that creates a likeness or analogy between two objects or ideas

7multiphor: many analogies, or a comparison of multiple objects or ideas

8metaphive: a plethora of metaphors