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Archive for June, 2013

There seems to be a lot of anger in the world these days. And it’s not just the “war on terror,” or riots in (name of country in the news today), or drug lords. It’s ordinary people. It’s drivers on the freeways throwing drinks at each other. It’s kids “hazing” other kids by sexually assaulting them. It’s mothers driving their daughters to the house of a perceived rival and encouraging them to beat the shit out of each other. It’s flipping the bird and cussing out service people and elbowing ahead in line and shouting at whoever is on the other end of the cellphone in the middle of a crowded store. It’s everywhere, and it’s our fault.

Here in the US, the anger levels are reaching fever pitch. The people are mad and want the system fixed but our Federal government seems to be more concerned with blame and finger pointing than with actually doing anything. As a governing body, it has been at a useless standstill for years now. The old white men want women back under their thumbs in the kitchen and out of sight, while the young minorities and women want to hand over the farm to everybody with a hand out. Neither approach is doing jack to help our country. It’s only dividing us even more.

Now, normally I try to avoid politics on this page. I was always told there are two things you just don’t discuss with friends, politics being one and religion being the other. We each have our own unique and passionately held beliefs on both that probably should just be kept to ourselves. So I won’t do the rant I had initially planned. I like you all and just like with my husband, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on some things and move along.

“We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”

Benjamin Franklin

But what I will do is tell you to pull your collective heads out of the sand and pay attention to what’s going on in the world, in your country, in your region, in your town. Don’t just blindly follow along with whatever the talking heads tell you. That’s where so much of the anger comes from. The “news” isn’t about reporting anything anymore; it’s about ratings, which means it’s really about money. So each side stirs their respective pots to get the beans really rolling around, and then pits one against the other. It’s like mixing matter and anti-matter. And the only people getting the benefit of all that energy are the corporations. We are only so much fodder in the great money machine.

It’s time for us to break out of that. It’s time for us to stop being sheep led about by the nose and fed the dead carcasses of our fellows in the form of a “protein rich” Soylent Green. It’s time for us to pay attention. No, I mean REALLY pay attention. Get off your ass and be part of the solution, because otherwise you’re just part of the problem.

Do your own research. If a particularly controversial law is being proposed, read the actual text of the law. Don’t depend on the pundits to translate it for you because they will put their own spin on it. Yes, that means reading all 1100 pages of the Affordable Care Act, and delving into the depths of the Patriot Act. It’s the only way you’ll really understand what’s happening to us, and the only way we have to try and fix what we think is broken. Knowledge is power and to get that knowledge you have to educate yourself, because no one’s going to do it for you.

Find out where your representatives stand on the issues and make sure they know where you stand. You can contact the US House of Representatives here, the US Senate here, and the White House here. The theory is, they work for us. It hasn’t been that in actual practice for a long time now, and it’s long overdue for taking that power back. Don’t like the job they’re doing? Fire them. It’s called voting.

Advocate for what you believe in. Attend the relevant public hearings, write letters to the editor, picket in front of city hall. Whatever it is, DO SOMETHING. Don’t just sit there like some self-important little potentate who expects everything to be done for him. I’m not your servant and I’ll be damned if I waste all my hard work on a slug.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Edmund Burke

That’s probably what’s irked me most about all this anger flinging about: lots of rhetoric, not a lot of actual work. Don’t be angry just because someone else is, or because you were told to be. Be angry because YOU decided you didn’t like how things were being done, then go out and do something about them.

But I’m just one voice, you’re probably whining. What does it matter what I have to say, you’re probably sniveling. Gandhi was just one voice. Mandela was just one voice. Martin Luther King, Jr. was just one voice.

Trust me, it matters.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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I’ve been feeling my age lately. Well, to tell the truth, I’ve been feeling my weight lately. According to most medical charts, I’m considered morbidly obese. According to Gabriel Iglesias, I’m fluffy. Let’s just call it what it is: fat.

It has been a life-long battle, fat and me. I was over eight pounds when I was born in the early ‘60’s to a smoking teenaged mom. I shudder to think what size I might have been had modern health precautions been the norm then. My mom is tiny compared to me and wouldn’t have done well with a ten pound baby.

I take after my paternal grandfather a lot. He was a big man, 6’4” when he died in his early eighties, with a barrel chest and the broad face of his distant Choctaw heritage. At 6’ tall myself, with a large bone structure and dense musculature, I get away with carrying a WHOLE lot more than most people suspect. Part of that is the height, but part is also that I seem to carry my fat all over, not focused in one place like the belly or the hips. And I’ve always been a naturally very strong individual. At my peak in college I was bench-pressing 250lbs., leg-pressing 450lbs (with bad knees!), and riding my bicycle nearly 100 miles a week. Yes, I was substantially lighter then, too, but I was still out-performing GUYS my size on a regular basis. When the star college football center just looks at you aghast as you pop that leg press even he can’t manage, you know you might be a little on the strong side.

So I got away with carrying far more weight than I should for far longer than I should. And it steadily snuck up on me. Never being able to do much athletically as a kid because of the knee defect gave me a foundation of inactivity that was nearly impossible to circumvent. I did manage to be on the swim team in high school, marching band in both high school and college, and a necessary (read: primary transportation form) bicyclist for all those years as well. But in my late twenties the knees finally decided they weren’t going to work at all anymore without great amounts of pain, and my activity level took a beating. These last few years working at home, sitting on the couch playing with string or sitting in front of the computer playing with words didn’t help that at all, either.

Now, don’t get all bent out of shape yet. I’m a staunch supporter of loving yourself no matter what (not that I’m all that great at doing that for myself, but that’s another issue). People can be happy and healthy at any size and we each need to find our own comfort zone and just tell everyone who doesn’t like it to fuck off. I think the medical community still doesn’t have it figured out, that BMI is a bogus way to measure someone’s health (most NFL players would be considered obese, despite their low body fat percentages), that the ADA diet (or any diet, for that matter) doesn’t work for everyone, and that the weight loss industry doesn’t really want us all to be thin and healthy because then what would happen to their profit margin?

What I DO think is I just reached critical mass and it’s time for me and my body to have a serious sit down. Up to this point I’ve been very lucky in that my overall health isn’t really showing any adverse affects at carrying all this blubber around. My blood work would make most people half my age and weight weep with envy. But the chassis is starting to complain.

Last week I had to appear for jury duty. We only have one operating vehicle and, this being Southern California, public transport is never where you need it when you need it (though, I have to admit, they are SLOWLY improving). So hubby dropped me off and the plan was to pick me up after work. I was released from duty at noon, and decided I didn’t want to wait around five or six hours until my husband could get back to me. I looked up the bus schedule and found one that seemed reasonable as far as route and time, so off I went. The pick up spot was about half a mile from the courthouse. I began walking. Within a few minutes I was huffing and puffing like I was crawling up Everest, while at the same time sweating buckets in the balmy 80-something afternoon son. Simultaneously, my back decided it needed to spasm while shooting pains down my left leg, forcing me to shuffle along looking something akin to the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The hour bus ride in air conditioning was heaven after that. Then I got off at the closest stop to my house, which ended up being about ¾ of a mile from my door. It’s all flat on decent sidewalks so it should have been okay. But by the time I finally stumbled into my house, you’d have thought I just run a marathon through the Andes. I was overheated, hurting like I’d been hit by a truck, and exhausted. Then I saw myself in the full-length mirror on the closet door. It was like looking at a fun house mirror, where your head and feet are tiny and your body is huge. That was me. That’s what hit home like I’d never seen it before. That was my proverbial Come-To-Jesus moment.

Now, some people might have that moment and decide to go all commando on their diet and exercise program. And most of them would have stunning failures. Very few people can really pull themselves together enough to make such drastic changes. But nearly everyone can make one, little, change, and stick to it, and then slowly build on that. If I were to look at the big picture, the one where I need to lose over 100lbs, I’d just go back under the blankets and forget about it until the next time I have to walk back from jury duty. And that’s where so many people fail. They look at the total package, not at just one piece of it. Thankfully, being in the age and treachery division allows me greater sense than that.

So I’m getting up and walking on the treadmill for at least five minutes every even hour I’m awake. Not fast, not with a heavy incline, just get up and move a little bit. That’s what I really need the most, just to get up and move. We’ve already tweaked our diet to the point we’re willing, eating lean meats and leafy green vegetables and avoiding processed foods. Now I just need to reprogram the body to accept the fact we’re going to be moving more. I have lovely titanium knees now, so no more excuses there.

The truth is, none of us have any excuses. There’s always something you can do to help yourself in whatever form you’re working on. Whether it is weight loss or writing, you can always fit a little change in. Me looking at 100lbs. that need to go, or someone else deciding to take on their first novel are really not that different in the worlds of planning and discipline. Put the big goal into the back of your mind, forget the calendar, and focus on a little thing you can do right now. Five minutes here and there, five words here or there, and small victories add up to completed projects.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu
Chinese philosopher (604 BC – 531 BC)

I’ve taken my first step. Now let’s see yours.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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Writing is as much craft as it is art. Some people tend to use those two terms interchangeably, but I believe them to be different animals. Craft deals with the rules of your field, in this case punctuation and grammar and spelling, and the construction of words and sentences and paragraphs into something that makes sense to most of us. Art is what happens beyond craft; that unexplained extra something that makes us mere mortals just sit there with our mouths open.

Craft and art are neither mutually inclusive nor exclusive. There are plenty of excellent craftspeople that just don’t have that extra oomph, and plenty of stunning artists whose basic craft skills suck rocks. You can be very successful under either banner, without the other one. Most of us are, in fact, quite happily bounding through life just fine as just one or the other. It takes someone truly extraordinary to put the two together, and that’s why da Vinci and Bradbury and Spielberg have their places in history.

I’d like to think I’m a reasonably good craftsperson when it comes to writing, but a couple weeks ago I let loose a short story for critique (“Fiction Break”), and learned just how good I’m not. I received a variety of comments, both publically and privately, that gave me lots of good feedback. But the overwhelming majority didn’t get the point of the story as I had intended it. That’s where I failed as a craftsperson. What was in my head didn’t make it to the page in a manner that could be understood by the average reader.

Now, I could sit here and grouse about how I’m really no good at short stories because they’re really not my thing and just leave it at that, but that’s a cop out. Each writing format has its own unique requirements, and part of being a good craftsperson is to learn those requirements. It’s like learning your scales in music, or your basic figures in skating – you need that solid, automatic foundation under you before you can push the boundaries.

So I have to take those comments and process them and see what I can do to change my story to make the point I want, while still giving a good read. Right now I have the luxury of being able to explain to my readers exactly what I meant, but that doesn’t happen in the real world of publishing. I have to just send my stuff out there and know that my words will hold their own.

This is why critiquing is such an important part of the writing (singing, dancing, painting, etc.) process. Most of us in the creative fields are loathe to accept suggestions for improvement – we’ve just put our hearts and souls into this project, don’t you understand??? – and I am probably the worst of all when it comes to such things. I haven’t been part of a writing group since my days at the American Film Institute, mainly because I just couldn’t find the caliber of writers that I was blessed to experience there. But that doesn’t mean I don’t need critiquing.

There are those that argue the creative fields shouldn’t (can’t?) be critiqued, the question being how can you be objective about a subjective form? That’s why you get such varied reviews on the same creative piece.  In 1913 a riot broke out at the Paris debut of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The maestro’s ballet broke virtually all the accepted balletic conventions, and pissed off an elite audience that quickly made their opinions known. The cops had to be called in and Stravinsky fled the scene before the ballet was completed, probably in fear of his life. A hundred years later and the same ballet is highly regarded, widely performed and considered a turning point in the development of ballet and music.

The difference comes from more than the passage of time. That night in Paris was an EMOTIONAL outburst of epic proportions, with just as many supporters as detractors flinging fists about. Some didn’t like it because it didn’t meet their expected norm, and some liked it for the very same reason. Emotion is the subjective part of the creative fields, the part every creative person aspires to elicit in his or her targeted audience. I don’t want you as the reader to just be satisfied with my excellent craftsmanship, I want you to be surprised, angered, saddened, or otherwise emotionally moved. The craft itself needs to disappear into the background, letting the art run free.

The objective part of things comes when we try to figure out why something moved us. Time allowed us to take a look back at Stravinsky’s work and dissect what he did, what conventions he broke and how. We can analyze form, function, structure, and begin to understand on an intellectual level why his ballet caused the reactions it did. These same examinations can be done with any creative form and that objectivity is part of what I’m looking for when I send things out for critique.

To really make progress I need both. I need the subjective emotional, visceral response, and I need the objective reasoning of why that response happened. Much as I love having people sing the praises of my writing, if that’s all I’m getting, I’m not improving. That’s just leaving me as a craftsperson, and not challenging the artisan.

And that’s the difference between being somebody who writes, and somebody who’s a writer.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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Sometimes things pop into my head, and I have no idea where the hell they came from, let alone what they mean. Take today’s title. I’m rummaging in the refrigerator for the milk, innocently minding my own business, when BAM! there it is. And for some reason, I like it. It’s odd and catchy at the same time, sort of like a statement taken out of context as you walk by other people in the middle of a conversation. You have no idea what they’re really talking about but your imagination is running wild with the possibilities.

As part of our historical re-enacting, my husband and I spend three to four weeks a year camping at large events with our friends. There’s constant noise and activity and just taking a casual stroll through the encampments can bring all sorts of interesting snippets to our ears. Some of my favorites over the years:

“I don’t think it’s supposed to be purple.”

“Just feel the energy of your balls.”

“Put it in upside down.”

“I’m supposed to stay here until he dies.”

“Oh my God! That’s not going to fit!”

I have no idea what any of those statements really meant in the context of their (likely innocent) individual conversations, especially since they were all heard in the broad of daylight, but my imagination doesn’t need to know the facts for the fun to begin. Every one of these is now fodder for the fool.

My mind does that to me a lot. I catch a title from somewhere, and build the article to suit. I’d venture to say I probably have more titles than ideas to go with them. Or maybe there is an idea hiding there somewhere and that’s why the title appeared. I just haven’t made the connection yet. Whatever the mechanism, I seem to be passing by all sorts of weird conversations in my head and I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t get help for that.

So where is the fish and why should I ignore it? We actually have some of that faux crab meat (made from white fish) in the fridge, waiting for seafood salad night. Is this my subconscious telling me that it’s not safe? We just bought it a couple days ago, and it’s vacuum-sealed, so you’d think it would be okay. Or maybe it’s the carnivore inside trying to get out of eating a full salad on purpose, instead of just the occasional garnish next to the London broil. I can see the cross look on my doctor’s face even as I write that thought.

No, I think there’s much more to it than that…

Sterling held the trembling Vinnie at bay with his snub-nosed .38 and a sneer of satisfaction. Finally he would have his revenge. Tilting his Fedora with a touch on the brim, he took a measured step forward, ignoring the splash of a puddle on the wet pavement.

“Wait, wait, wait!” Vinnie pleaded, crumpling to his knees. “I don’t want to swim with no fish!”

“Just ignore the fish.” Sterling’s dark eyes were harsh shadows in his narrow face. “They’re the least of your worries.”

Or maybe…

Reginald led Sarah through the musty halls of the great old manse, explaining her housekeeping duties as they went. When they finally came to their master’s private office, she took careful notes while Reginald droned on about all the details of care expected for the book-filled room. Her eyes kept drifting to an aquarium near the lone window, dark shadows flitting through the greens, wondering just what she would have to do for that.

“Just ignore the fish,” came Reginald’s imperious croak. Startled, Sarah turned to find his pale, rheumy eyes frowning at her. “Master Victor deals with those himself.”

It might even be…

Artie had the audience rolling now. Even with the brilliant stage lights shining into his face, he could see people laughing so hard tears streamed down their cheeks. A lifetime of hard work and sacrifice led to this one moment, this one instant that could change his world forever. He clutched the talisman in his pocket and made his final wish as he let loose the punch line.

“Just ignore the fish, the guy says, ‘cause they don’t ride bicycles.”

The crowd roared.

 I can also imagine it being something Noah might have heard when planning the Ark’s manifest. As if it wasn’t obvious.

The point of all this is, I don’t have to worry about having the whole story from the beginning. My bizarre little brain will just naturally fill in the blanks as I get to them. The challenge is to make the story captivating and entertaining, even if it is as mundane as bathrobes and bunny slippers. That’s where the craft of writing comes to play. Everybody gets ideas. Not everybody can execute them, let alone well. Writing is a practiced skill, and by doing silly little exercises like this article, I hope to keep getting better. Let me know if I don’t, and just ignore the fish.

© 2013  Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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