Thursday, April 24, 2014

Photography and Writing


Many days, I take a break from writing and walk for exercise and a chance to enjoy the outdoors. Lately, I’ve been taking my camera and  shooting some pictures of the scenery.

I had an opportunity yesterday to join an outdoor photography class led by Chris Brown. We spent three hours talking about photography and taking pictures along the Doudy Draw Trail south of Boulder, Colorado.

Chris described photography as consisting of four elements: two technical left brain (exposure and focus) and two creative right brain (composing and seeing). We started the day by walking up the trail and seeing what was around us. Chris suggested we view this as an opportunity to exorcise the demons of expectation and familiarity, and it did provide an chance to see things in a new way. I noticed grass waving in the wind, the contrast of shadows and shades of green along the hillside to the east and a row of trees that looked like people marching along a ridge.

In addition to a nice walk and a time to take some pictures, this class helped me see how both photography and writing combine left brain and right brain activities. In my writing I use the left brain for language and the right brain for creativity.

A picture of the group and two of the scenery.


 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Certainty and Uncertainty

Last week at the Conference of World Affairs at the University of Colorado, I attended a panel discussion titled, The Wisdom of Uncertainty.  I found this subject very informative, because we live in a world of uncertainty, but have a natural inclination to bring order and certainty to things around us.

One panelist stated that knowledge is an unending adventure on the edge of science, where we may be mistaken, but science is self-correcting when something is proven wrong. The danger becomes when people are so certain of a belief that they cease to look at facts any longer. Another panelist quipped that Google is the greatest propagator of false certainty.

I like applying this analysis of uncertainty to the world of writing. As writers, we can’t be certain that anyone will read our work, but we can be certain that we will write and finish our manuscripts. This gets into attitude. Confidence and certainty are very different things. I can be confident in my abilities, but there is uncertainty in the outcome of the final product.

Uncertainty is necessary in a world of change. Those who are most certain are often caught off guard, when the world changes. By maintaining a sense of curiosity and constantly testing our assumptions, we can learn, grow and possibly turn pockets of uncertainty into knowledge.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Detachment and Serendipity

I enjoy the small lessons in life. This week I attended the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado. I learned a great deal on a wide variety of topics, but one small lesson occurred along the way.

Last year when I attended the keynote address, I got in line because I wanted to have a seat in Macky Auditorium. By the time I got in the building, I ended up in the third level, top balcony. This year there were two long lines waiting to get into the two doors of the auditorium. I decided I would take a walk and join the back of a line once it started moving, figuring worst case I could always sit outside if the auditorium had filled and listen to the presentation that would be broadcasted through a loudspeaker.

So I joined the end of one of the lines, had a nice conversation with the people in front of me as we slowly wended our way to the auditorium. Once inside, an attendant announced that all the seats were taken in the balconies, but there were seats in the front of the auditorium that had been reserved for other speakers but were not being used. Consequently, I got a seat in the third row, right by the stage.

New philosophy: don’t sweat the small stuff, stay detached, and sometimes pleasant surprises occur.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Discipline vs. Compulsiveness

I’ve addressed part of this subject before in this blog, but it’s worth revisiting. In the world of writing there is always more that we can do to improve our craft, write another story, go through another editing pass, do one more event, post something else on social media or activate one more promotional idea. We can easily fill up twenty-four hours with things we should do for our writing career.

So what’s the answer on maintaining the discipline of our writing world while not becoming compulsive? All I can do is share my own experience. I’m a disciplined writer. When I began writing in 2001 while still working full time, I came across a technique in Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way, called Morning Pages, which I adapted to serve my writing needs. Every morning I reviewed where I had left off the day before in my writing and then wrote three hand written pages to continue the story before going off to work. When I came home from my day job, I entered these pages into the computer, doing an editing pass along the way. This produced approximately two typed pages. If you do the math, in one-hundred-fifty days, I’d have the rough draft for a three-hundred page novel. In fact, I used this technique to write my first three published novels. When I retired in 2007 to writ full time and being a morning person, I changed my process and wrote directly into the computer every morning, saving the afternoon for administrative and promotional activities.

I write nearly every morning. I say nearly because if we’re visiting our kids and grandkids or if I’m doing a morning event or conference, I don’t write.

I’ve been fortunate to have seven novels published with three more in the contract negotiation and publication queue. I also have a number of unpublished manuscripts that I’m shopping.

My challenge is to keep writing in perspective within my life. After I had a heart attack last September, I lay in the hospital reviewing all the things I had committed to. I went through the list and chopped. One example, I was on twenty-two reader/writer Yahoo loops. I slashed this back to six. I resigned from two volunteer positions and cut back on other areas of over commitment.

What I’ve learned is to temper my discipline. My compunction to be on my computer writing right after breakfast has changed. I may get interested in a program on the History Channel while eating breakfast and watch for another half hour. I’m not forgetting my writing, but I’m no longer being compulsive about it. I could easily force myself to not get up from my computer chair until I’ve written so many pages or so many words. Now I write for several hours and accept that as a successful morning’s work.

The answer for me as in so many aspects of life is balance.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Friends of Different Ages

Are your friends your age or different ages? I’m fortunate to have friends between  the ages of 10 and 95.

My 10-year-old friend, Fox, keeps me young. We take him to all the kid movies (most recent--The Muppets Most Wanted) go on expeditions, hike and attend his concerts and plays.

My 95-year-old friend, Ed, entertains me with his stories of World War 2 as an infantryman in Europe, prisoner of war and adventures behind the Russian lines when liberated in 1945. This has led to a project of writing his biography. I enjoy his sense of humor, vitality and sound mind. We take walks or sit and chat.

It's a gift to have friends with different perspectives and experiences. I’ve learned a great deal from both ends of the age spectrum.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

More on German Prisoners of War in the United States during World War Two

The veteran of World War Two whom I’m interviewing was a prisoner of war in Germany. Many years later he met a German who had been a prisoner of war in the United States. This man commented on how these were the best days of his life, an experience not shared by my veteran.

The German prisoners of war in the United States were treated well. In fact, there was some public outrage that they were being coddled and not being reeducated to embrace democracy. A great deal of debate took place within the  War Department on whether a reeducation program should take place. Finally, an experimental program was put together, but it was kept confidential because of concerns that there might be retaliation on American prisoners of war in German if this was publicized. An interesting story I read recently relates that a Congressman who was critical that this reeducation wasn’t taking place happened to visit a prisoner of war camp where the experimental program was taking place. He didn’t recognize what was going on and continued to lambast the War Department. The reeducation wasn’t made public until after V-E Day. Ironically, the public and the press immediately lost interest in the issue. Some things never change—members of Congress who spout off without recognizing what’s going on and too much attention to the issue of the day versus long term solutions.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Prisoners of War in World War Two

The World War Two veteran I’m writing about attempted to escape twice while held by the Germans.

German prisoners of war had their escape attempts in the United States as well. In the Tennessee mountains, an old woman shot at three escaping German prisoners killing one. As recounted in Nazi Prisoners of War in America by Arnold Krammer, when the woman was confronted by a deputy sheriff who told her she had killed a German, he said, “Well ma’am, what in thunder did you think you were doing?” She replied, “I thought they wuz Yankees.”