Member Monday: Writing is Art by Jennifer Phelps

Welcome back to Member Monday.  It’s a pleasure to once again feature member Jennifer Phelps.  Welcome back, Jennifer!

Writing is Art

by Jennifer Phelps

Writing is art. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, but it’s a phenomenon that I’m sure veteran writers have been dealing with for ages. What I mean when I say writing is art is that even if the writing is labeled “nonfiction,” it is a creative endeavor. It is not intended to represent the whole truth, nor can it. It is a slice of life, a snapshot, one angle on the truth in any given moment. That is not to say nonfiction writing is a lie – it’s not! But it is a piece of writing. It is not meant to convey the totality of the feelings and intentions of the writer.

Neither should the writer attempt to explain, justify, or soften the writing. This can be very slippery territory indeed. I’ve never published anything I regret, but I do wish I hadn’t answered questions about some of my pieces, and I have vowed never to do it again. Once, after reading a poem I’d placed in a lit journal, a well-meaning relative asked, “Was this about so-and-so?” She already knew who the poem was about, I’m sure, because enough of the details were recognizable. So the question caught me off guard and I answered, “Yes.”

“I thought so!” She sounded pleased – she’d solved a puzzle. She knew the inside story.  And I instantly regretted affirming her suspicions – because the poem didn’t tell the whole truth. It was only one piece, one facet. If you read that poem and thought, “This is what Jennifer thinks about so-and-so,” you’d be wrong. Did the poem represent a thought I’d had once about so-and-so? Sure. A recurring thought, even. A poetic thought. But it wasn’t the complete story. A poem  can’t be the complete story. It’s a poem. 

Works of nonfiction, poetry, and fiction alike take on a life of their own. Writers know what I mean. When I sit down to write a personal essay, I have something I want to say, but then at some point, craft intervenes. I’m not suggesting everything I write is some monumental achievement of craft, but the aesthetic is there. My writing needs to have tone, cadence, flow, internal consistency. An essay needs to stand alone, to be cohesive. As I’m writing, these elements start to matter. So, sometimes I include ideas that fit with the piece the way it is taking shape, and I omit others that don’t. To quote filmmaker Robert Flaherty, “Sometimes you have to lie in order to tell the truth.” There are no lies in my nonfiction writing, but sometimes the whole truth is confusing, incongruent, too large in scope. As a writer, it’s my job to pare it down.

To tell the whole story in any given piece would be an insurmountable undertaking, and the result would be ridiculous and contradictory. I can’t write: This person really pissed me off, but then I thought about it later and I could see where all the years of abuse she endured while in foster care really affected her ability to emotionally connect, and all things considered she really meant well, so although I felt uncomfortable at the time I guess it was really okay.  Maybe.  It might be the whole truth, but it’s awful writing.  (Unless you’re Allen Ginsberg…then it’s genius.) When I’m writing, I have to stick to the topic and slice through. The result is a cross-section, like a single image from a CT scan. At times the whole picture is unrecognizable from the slices. So it is with art.

It’s important to remember that a piece of writing isn’t a doorway to the innermost thoughts of the writer, or even a window – it’s a keyhole.

There’s another arty element at work here too – the reader. People probably won’t like me saying this (oooh…controversial!) but I think writing is a bit of a Rorschach test. We definitely recognize this factor when viewing paintings. For instance, why is the Mona Lisa smiling? There are a zillion interpretations, and her expression evokes different responses in different people. We’re often comfortable with this type of ambiguity in visual art.

People don’t tend to think of writing this way, though, unless it’s poetry, and even then we often assume there is one “correct” meaning, that the intentions of the writer are present and decipherable in the text. We seem to think that because words have prescribed definitions in certain contexts that we can take them at face value and can read a piece and analyze the writer, the writing, and the subject matter.

I suggest that this is not true!  What a reader takes from any given piece of writing just may say as much about his or her own prejudices, predilections, and state of mind as it does about the writer. Some pieces of creative writing are clearly more subjective than others, but it’s an idea worth considering. In the eye of the beholder, and all that…

There’s a quote I love by Stephen King, from his book On Writing. He says, “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered.” If he’s right, polite society and I parted company quite some time ago. I’m okay with it, but I’m still learning how to share my writing, how to respond to the varied reactions I get respectfully while remaining true to my own intentions. I’m finding that in these situations, what I don’t say is every bit as important as what I do say – just like when I’m writing. When I can’t speak to the whole truth, I’m just as honest as I can be – and I try to make it sound good.  That’ll have to do.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

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Member Monday : Too Much Stuff by Dale Angel

Welcome back to Member Monday. Dale Angel is back is back with another humorous essay.  Welcome, Dale.

Too Much Stuff

by Dale Angel

I’m approaching the age where people get that disease “Too much stuff.” It can begin when you find all kinds of leftovers in the fridge brought home from eating out. But that doesn’t concern me as much as the saved containers; the kind that leak BPA plastic into the food. I went to that place to eat because it is supposed to be healthy; is that reasonable?

I also find little pieces of old cheese, a leftover bun, something in a jar—no date on it, half a coke, and unidentifiables that should have moved on long ago.

I never find leftover Southern Comfort, or that Concord grape wine, or Chocolate, the life saving kind that requires occasional trips to the pawn shop; medicine that should always be in-house.

If you have the resources to visit the liquor store, you have probably mortgaged the house or hit the lottery.

These kinds of leftovers, if there are any, are very valuable. Don’t throw it out like other stuff, it’s very useful during bouts of daily stressful unforeseen circumstances called crisis. Read the side effects before taking this medicine.

I’m reforming. I promised myself to quit bringing stuff home. I joined again, but didn’t keep my promise again, and I fell off my intentions … again.

Today, I began with new enthusiasm, because I better understand that Garage sales are addictive. I should be having them, not visiting them. I looked into the back of the cupboards and found things hiding I brought home months ago. No one told me they multiply in areas out of sight, in garages, and in storage containers.

Pretty things that are ornamental, but not useful, have no redeeming value, except your thoughtfulness to send them to someone you think needs a gift.

My sister asked me not to be so thoughtful or she will send them back. She said “they’re as useful as toe covers.”

I tried to return a vase to a friend, she almost attacked me. She said her husband’s Aunts had died and left them all their stuff, and there wasn’t enough room left in the house to hang her car keys. She drove a nail on the outside wall to hang them on.

I’m not the only one with this ”Too much disease.” About everyone has a mild or severe case. I’m ashamed to admit I found a coat bought in San Francisco one summer; it’s never been cold enough to wear it here. The shame comes from the size; it shrank while hanging in the closet.

Rehab has been helpful. I’m ahead of one of my friends who is so proud of her 20 year-old blouse; I quit wearing mine. I’m confident I can add it to my throw-away pile without too much separation anxiety. I have some medicine in the fridge for these kinds of crisis.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

“Loosing It,” a random best of anything…

Welcome back to “Best of Anything That Strikes Someone’s Fancy” series. This is from 2012. It’s a pleasure to feature former Writers Forum newsletter editor and wordsmith extraordinaire, Jennifer Phelps.

Loosing It

by Jennifer Phelps

These days everybody seems to be “loosing” things.  It’s as if the entire English-speaking world has forgotten how to spell the word “lose.”  This problem is most likely perpetuated by the fact that spell check doesn’t balk at “loose.”  It’s a word, just the wrong one in many instances.

I should probably consider the possibility that these are not typographical errors and that everyone has taken a detached, carefree attitude toward life.  Maybe they have simply started cutting things loose.  They loose their keys.  They loose their wallets.  They think that they may be “loosing it.”  I think of the lyrics of that old hit song by 38 Special: “Hold on loosely, but don’t let go.”  Perhaps everyone has taken this to be gospel and has started loosing things.  It’s a paradigm shift of epic proportions.

Spell check may be in part to blame for the prevalence of “loosing” (if one rejects my paradigm shift theory), but the “autocorrect” feature on smartphones, Facebook, etc., is often responsible for other, even more amusing incorrect word substitutions.  If I’m not careful about meticulous proofreading, these things will get by me.  What’s interesting is how “autocorrect” seems to choose bizarre words that are far less common than the one that was intended.  The other day someone mentioned the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz, but autocorrect exchanged “wicket” for “wicked.”  This created a whole new villain.  Everyone taking part in the exchange (on Facebook) appreciated language, and we had fun speculating about this “Wicket Witch.” Someone suggested that perhaps she takes pleasure in (gasp) seeking out and ruining croquet games!

I recently saw the words imminent and eminent mixed up with entertaining results.  Substituting eminent for imminent, like this offender did, can be funny (an eminent disaster, for instance), but what if imminent were substituted for eminent?  Is an imminent leader one who is sure to be elected?  I have to wonder.

These sorts of errors happen in the context of technical language, too.  In my medical transcription work, I’ve seen people mix up discreet and discrete, transcribing in all seriousness a “discreet nodule in the axilla” or a “discreet lesion seen on CT scan.”  It is reassuring to think that although these findings may well represent some unfavorable pathology, they are at least being discreet about it.

It really isn’t nice of me to assume such a snobbish attitude toward those among us who aren’t acquainted with the finer nuances of the English language.  I have to remind myself often that it’s their language, too.  They are as entitled to misuse it as I am entitled to use it correctly, but I do take a sort of “wicket” satisfaction in these language blunders.  I am not “loosing” my manners, though; when an “imminent” member of the writing community has made the error, I try to hide my amusement whenever possible.  It always pays to be “discrete.”

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.  Submissions should be 75-750 words.  Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links.  Thank you!

Member Monday: Finding Denis, Part 1 by Alicia McCauley

Alicia & some of her Ugandan kidsWelcome back to Member Monday.  Today we feature a piece by Alicia McCauley.  Alicia spends her summers teaching writing and committing acts of Vigilante Kindness in and around Gulu, Uganda.  She will be sharing about her last trip and her upcoming trip at our May meeting.  Welcome, Alicia.

Finding Denis, Part 1

by Alicia McCauley

The boda driver killings in Gulu, Uganda began on May 28th and on May 29th I received a frantic message from my boda driver, Denis, that a rebel group had entered Gulu and was killing boda drivers in the cloak of night.

Denis’ message to me was quick and to the point.  “A group of people are killing boda boda riders in large.  And they are using guns.”

Messages from my other loved ones in Uganda came in frantic bursts.  The number of drivers killed was nearing twenty.  A mandatory curfew was put in place over the town.  The police were vigilant in their pursuit of the rebel group, but drivers continued to be shot and killed.

I called Denis.

And messaged him.

And sent my son, William, out to Denis’ village, Bungatira, to find him.

His phone was disconnected.  He didn’t reply to messages and worst of all, he was nowhere to be found in his village.

For weeks I tried to find him.

Then weeks turned into a month.

Time kept on growing and still no word.

The pit of my stomach felt like it was full of rocks. I thought of the voice in my ear telling me to let go.

No, I would not let go of this.  I would not let go of my friend.

I spewed angry prayers from between clenched teeth.  I am not letting go of my friend, God.  NOT LETTING GO.  So You and your voice are going to have to help me find Denis.

I wondered if Denis was alive.  And if he was alive, why wasn’t he home?  Why was his phone, his life line, not working?

Something was terribly wrong.

Since the summer of 2013 I’d heard from Denis at least every other week.  He regularly filled me in with reports on his pigs and reports about the village treasury.

And now nothing.

I arrived in Gulu and tried calling Denis countless times to no avail.  I planned to go to Denis’ village the following day to figure out for myself where my friend was and whether he was alive or not.

I can’t tell you how happy I was later that day when I picked up my phone and it showed a missed call from Denis’ number.  I kicked myself for having it on silent.

Again I called and didn’t get through.  Later William called and talked to Denis.  Denis was in Te Okot, the land of his clan.  William reported that Denis was walking to Gulu to come and see me.

Again alarm bells sounded in my mind.

Te Okot is 2-3 hours from Gulu and that’s if you go by motorcycle.  Why was Denis walking?  Why was he so far from home?

I called Denis and nearly cried when I heard his voice.  I fired questions at him.

“Where have you been?  You scared me to death.  I thought you were dead.  Why isn’t your phone working?  What are you doing so far from home?  Aren’t you in school?  Where’s your boda?  Why are you walking from so far?”

“I’ll explain it all when I reach you.  I’ll be there around midnight,” Denis replied.

“Why don’t you take a boda?  It will be much faster.”

“It’s expensive.  I can’t pay for it.  My pigs were poisoned and died.  My future has died.”

“What???  Who killed your pigs?  And how much is the boda ride?”

“40,000 shillings.  I’ll explain everything when I get there.”

40,000 shillings is roughly $15.

I told Denis I’d pay the boda driver, that he should just come and come quickly.

Then I waited one of the longest hours of my life.

Come to the May Writers Forum meeting to find out how the story ends.  Can’t wait that long?  Click here to read more.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: I Highly Approve of Failed Vasectomies by Dale Angel

Welcome back to Member Monday.  Yes, you read that title right.  Dale Angel is back, stirring up trouble and making us love her to bits for doing it.  For your own safety, swallow whatever food or beverage you may have in your mouth before proceeding.  Welcome, Dale.

I Highly Approve of Failed Vasectomies

by Dale Angel

I highly approve of failed vasectomies.

We don’t live long enough to find solutions to all of life’s verities.

Whole countries have tried to control births. They wiped out from under themselves a whole generation of future tax payers that would keep their own government intact, serious repercussions. Then they reversed that in favor of washing down river, future females…they now have too many males with no partners, what can you do with that?
You think of these things when you practice this on a small scale. These man-made solutions are dicey.
Looking back, after the fog settles you better understand the frailty of human errors.
It still rings in my head, ”You can’t be…I assisted in that operation.” They tried to blame it on me after two failed vasectomies.
Hindsight helps one to better understand… The doctor’s wife had run off with a tennis player from La Jolla, keeping in mind this is golf country adds insult to injury.  His assistant Miss ”You can’t be, I assisted in that operation” stepped in and consoled him and got pregnant herself.  You can’t blame him for losing confidence in his own practice.
I learned to breathe with my head in a sack, I had three more babies at home.
That’s probably why my beautiful sisters-in-law decided not have children.  Instead they drove around in convertibles and cars with fins.  Their hair blew in the California wind.  They dressed in bathing suits under minks as they traversed the highway to Hollywood fun.
They had matched shoes and purses, matched luggage, tickets to travel on airplanes with propellers to vacation spots where they had cocktails before dinner. They had houses made of adobe with low windows that looked out over swimming pools among the lemon groves, and a 12 inch televisions!
Today my beautiful sisters-in-law are both in a rest home, they have no comforter or anyone to hold their hands, they weep.
This week I was invited to meet the second generation of one of my failed vasectomies; a ten pound great-grandson who looked me in the eye. I like him. He comes with history.
At my table recently one of my sons asked me why, when I pinned up his school pictures I always put the pin in his head. Another recently came out with the truth, why he cut the cats whiskers off. That’s how he learned to cut off his own eyebrows and eyelashes. That motor driven thing they made out of the neighbor’s trash came up in the conversation.  They reminded me what I said, “I wouldn’t come to the rest home and wipe slobber off their chins or push them in wheelchairs.”
They talked about the value of cameras and how they stop crime then went on to talk about us. We’d still be in jail if they had cameras when I drove over all those gravestones when we got lost in the fog.
I blame this on not getting enough air when I lived with the sack over my head managing life’s verities.  I like failed vasectomies. They to have to put up with me now.
A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: Online Class by Dale Angel

Welcome back to Member Monday.  It’s a pleasure to feature a piece by the always hilarious Dale Angel.

Online Class

by Dale Angel

I’m taking an online class. The subjects are varied and useful for everyday life. The teacher is well-known, educated and comes with credentials and a title. The instructor’s name is Judge Judy.
I personally learned how to dress for the work environment. You need a white lace collar. It made me realize I need the services of the physical landscaping skills of her surgeon. She looks sixteen and last class she showed up with blond hair, the necessary equipment for the job.
She shows us the value of personal worth by refusing to get involved in domestic affairs. What she calls, “playing house with benefits”.
She will not divide up the items fought over like the plaintiffs toothbrush holder and running shoes or the defendant’s rims off her car. She will not unmingle their toys.
She’s not using up her life or education over trivias, especially when both want a refund and compensation on their bad investment…we can all learn something from this.
She’s very astute in unraveling who threw the first punch…and she can identify the keys of rejected lovers…who used them to damage the cars belonging to the party of the first part.
Her work ethics are so creative when ones spouse sues, and the problem is from unemployment that brought it about, her advice is ”just gather cans and hire your own attorney”.  She’s fair.
She is a master at identifying manufactured disabilities that her bailiff pays his taxes to support so the disabled party has an income…while surfing.
The case of the women who sued for back injury and pain and suffering was enlightening. Judge Judy told her to try climbing down off those shoes, see if that helps…next!
Her practical questions are so skilled you see people tattling on themselves.
She is very good to youths who have coping problems, who she says, ”lie when their mouths are moving”. She is so kind, she never deprives them of consequences. It shows a great deal of experience in this area. I need to know more about things like this, at present, I’m under qualified.
Never do business without defensive receipts-you will need them for decades because someone may come out of the woodwork…save all receipts…good to know.
My new electric blanket has instructions. ” If it fails, mail back only in the original box plus the warranty.” I’m saving the required box and warranty for the next five years.
As an advocate of defenseless old people, she can spot a looter and plunderer with a couple of pertinent questions. We all need to know more pertinent questions. I’m not sure when to use them. I may need that information, this class will show me how.
She will not accept Dr.Phil’s failed cases, she says, “Some things can’t be fixed.” Isn’t that sensible? I need to know that, I’ll quit climbing ropes with fire at my feet trying to outrun problems I can’t fix.
Dogs and their problems are of current concern, if you have one, go out and buy insurance, if not for the dog, for their owners. Dogs are big business and Judge Judy loves them and sees through any who are into dogs for profit. She has no problem separating and restraining dogs, but untangling their owners are another matter. She says, ”The dogs are better mannered.”
She’s not above calling names and screaming when necessary and knows how to properly use these tools online.
I’m especially impressed with her ability to hold her tongue when she wants to swear and how and when this is done professionally with dignity while driving…without using ones finger.
This class contains a variety of beneficial subjects to help negotiate life’s gridlocks
A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

In Memoriam: Magical Shoes by Gayle Madden

Welcome back to Member Monday.  It’s with heavy hearts that we feature a piece by Gayle Madden.  She recently passed away and we offer our sincere condolences to her husband, Michael.  While we mourn Gayle’s passing, we celebrate her life, a life well-lived indeed.  This is the second of two pieces by Gayle we featured this month and we encourage you to read more of her body of work at her blog, aptly titled The Sweet Life: La Dolce Vita. -Writers Forum Board of Directors

Magical Shoes

by Gayle Madden

Walking a mile in my Magical Shoes

I finally know what it’s like to walk a mile in my shoes!

In January of 2011, my husband, Michael, bought me a new pair of pretty RED ones as a surprise.  The surprise turned out to be I wouldn’t wear them until recently, 14 months later.  But what a sweet walk it was!

The shoes are magical.

Just ask Debbie, our adventurous friend who joined us.  She has a pair of magical shoes, too.

Magical Shoes are made to keep a traveler afloat in a storm.  I wore out my last pair!

You might think I need a really big size to weather my current storm, but part of the magic is that one size fits all.  Another part of the magic is that we all have magic shoes.

What color are yours?

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!