30 June 2013

Crossing the Finish Line: Wordle and Blogathon Wrap Up

What so wild as words are?
~ Robert Browning, A Woman's Last Word

arting is such sweet relief!!

30 Days.  30 Posts.  And the ink just continues to flow!  Thank you, Michelle Rafter and my fellow Blogathoners.  Without you chugging along beside me, encouraging and writing every day, I wouldn’t have made it.

All artists would like to think that the words, or the paint, or the dance steps, or the notes, somehow magically appear in the air where we can just grab them and voila!  A beautiful work of art!  But thankfully, that is not how it works.  Why thankfully?  Because our art is born of our lives ~ all the heartbreaks, moments of ecstasy, deep wells of darkness and despair, renewed faith, and healing love.

And that is what makes good art so human.  And so otherworldly.  It captures us and at the same time, transcends us.

This Blogathon taught me that I do have the ability to find something meaningful to write about every day.  And I hope that this postive victory stays with me to light the next dark day that dawns with a blank screen.  There is always something beautiful to see, some increidble moment to share, some healing to pass on.  This is my gift and it's my duty to embrace it and give it.

I look forward to beginning a new adventure and a new challenge tomorrow. [Surprise!]  And although I'll miss the daily posts and interactions, I look forward to continuing to follow some truly beautiful and talented writers from the Blogathon.

Congratulations!  We did it!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
It’s been a wild ride!  What did you learn from your time here?  What has changed about your writing?

29 June 2013

Freewrite: Preserve Language, Preserve Culture

The language itself, whether you speak it or not, whether you love it or hate it, is like some bewitchment or seduction from the past, drifting across the country down the centuries, subtly affecting the nations sensibilities even when its meaning is forgotten.
~ Jan Morris, Wales: The First Place


esterday I  met a man from Cardiff.  He had the most delicious accent, a clear, crisp tenor singing voice, and a deep love of the Welsh language.  I could have listened to him talk all day long.

Well, maybe not all day.

Ever since I heard David Tennent speak a few words of Welsh on Doctor Who (especially the Cardiff/Bad Wolf episode), and I found out that I’m almost completely half Welsh on my mother’s side, I developed a fondness for the language.  Somehow, it reminds me of Gothic ~ which to me is the most romantic language ever spoken.

Too bad it died out.

This man, Owen, works to make sure that doesn’t happen to the Welsh language.  He teaches Welsh at the University there.  And when I met him, he, along with a couple others, sang Welsh songs and talked about the origins of Welsh poetry.  It was beautiful, and mundane, and common, and yet somehow, still mythical and ethereal.  Even when they were singing about oxen plowing a field, or a black-hearted lass, or the soughing of the sea against the shore.

In some ways, to preserve a language is to preserve a culture.  Why else would conquerors outlaw the local native language of whatever village, tribe, or country they had invaded?  Yes, a common language makes trade or business easier.  But it also renders the thoughts of the enslaved open and a rebellion easier to spot.

Not to mention, if you stomp out the culture, the people have one less thing to fight for.
No society is ever completely free of conquerors.  There will always be men (and women) mad for power and ruthless enough to do whatever it takes to grab and keep it.  In our society today, I wonder what we have worth fighting for? 

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
Languages are not my gift.  But Welsh I would love to learn.  What languages move you?


28 June 2013

Top Five Friday: How to Keep the Writerly Home Fires Burning

10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer:
Write more.
Write even more.
Write even more than that.
Write when you don’t want to.
Write when you do.
Write when you have something to say.
Write when you don’t.
Write every day.
Keep writing.
~ Brian Clark

wo more days to go!

To be honest, I didn’t think I’d make it all thirty days.  Looking back at my participation in 2011 and 2012, it’s easy to see why: in 2011, I wrote nineteen posts and in 2012, twenty-one.  This will be the first year that I wrote all thirty posts.

I feel good. Channels inner James Brown.

If you’re a sadist, the Ultimate Blog Challenge starts July 1, but I think I need a teeny break from posting. Every. Single. Day.  However, this doesn’t mean that I’ll stop writing every day.

Writing is like any habit: you have to do it continuously for at least a month in order for it to sink deep into your muscle memory.  And the Blogathon (and any blog or writing challenge) helps because it puts your fingers to the fire.  Sure, no one will point at you and laugh and say, “Loser!” if you don’t post every day.  And sometimes life just happens and you don’t cross the finish line or win the gold. Don't sweat it.  But there is something personally satisfying about completing a project, and victory tastes like sweet tea now that I’ve finally done it.

Well, almost.  Two days!!

With the Blogathon drawing to a close, I want to encourage all my new blogger friends and colleagues that participated (no matter how much or how little) to continue the habit.  Write every day.  I don’t care if it’s an essay no one will ever read.  Or a page a day in your journal.  Or even a letter to a loved one.

Just. Write.

And in addition to writing, read.  Never had to read Moby Dick in high school?  Read it now.  Think Shakespeare is a bore?  Pick up a copy of The Merchant of Venice and the companion Cliff or Spark Notes, and read it out loud.  Even better, watch Hamlet with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart to get a modern feel for the Bard.  Then go read the play out loud.  Read Auten and other writers of the Regency, then move on to the Romantics, then the Moderns, and then the Post-Moderns. 

You cannot be a good writer, unless you’ve read great writers.  It’s just that simple.

You should also read books on writing and follow blogs about writing.  As with anything, there are some that are brilliant, and some that are better used as compost for the garden.  Here are my top five recommendations to help keep the writerly home fires burning.

Some of the best creative writing articles out there.  I follow them on my blog and with Bloglovin.  If I’m ever stuck for inspiration, I go here.  They always have writing prompts to get the ink flowing.

I’ve mentioned them before, but it bears repeating: this is a great blog for writerly advice and tips.  And Mary Jaksch also runs A-List Blogging.

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever read a Stephen King novel.  Horror has not been my subject of choice in reading material.  But maybe it’s time to check him out. Because his book on writing, my friends, is pure gold.  He tells it like it is, and gives solid advice.  This one is already on its way to becoming a classic.

Buy it. Read it.  Underline in it.  Write in it.

This book is a classic.  Which means the advice never gets old, never goes out of style, and can be applied to your writing today ~ even if you don’t write a line of poetry and are only young at heart.  Rilke is simply…the best.

Talent and being well-read are not the only factors in producing good writing.  You have to know your grammar, spell words correctly, and have a kick ass vocabulary too.  If you don’t know the meaning of a word, for Merriam-Webster’s sake, look it up!  There’s no excuse, there are countless dictionaries online now.

There is also Daily Writing Tips which has articles and links on misused words, spelling, grammar 101, and even a word of the day.  Don’t make me write a review of your book that rants about the misuse of your/you’re, their/there/they’re, and (my personal favorite) isle/aisle.

Two more days!  Happy writing!!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
Come Monday, the party’s over.  What are your writing (or other artistic) goals for July? How will you keep up the good habits you’ve begun? And what writer blogs or books do you recommend?

27 June 2013

Spock vs. John Muir: Reconnecting Our Humanity

My daily use of technological communication has been shaping me into someone more likely to forget others. . . . The more distracted we become, and the more emphasis we place on speed at the expense of depth, the less likely and able we are to care.
~ Jonathan Safran Foer, novelist, Middlebury College Commencement Address

This is the second in a series of posts exploring the current debate over technology and its effects, if any, on social behavior. ~ MD

oes our use of technology make it easier to connect? Or easier to remain isolated? 

As I mentioned last week, I recently  read three articles that sparked some thought on the tech vs. non-tech debate.  Or as I like to call it Spock vs. John Muir.  Last week’s post focused on the possible economic implications to technology ~ or more accurately, our dependence on it. 

This week, I want to look at the social implications. 

More Connected?
Author Jonathan Safran Foer’s commencement address to Middlebury College was excerpted in the New York Times on 9 June 2013 and he describes a personal encounter with an oft-cited result of our technological dependence. 

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a stranger crying in public….A girl, maybe 15 years old, was sitting on the bench opposite me, crying into her phone.
Such an encounter might not happen on a daily basis, but I know I’ve been in Foer’s situation before.  And I wondered ~ as he did ~ what I should do. 

I was faced with a choice: I could interject myself into her life, or I could respect the boundaries between us. Intervening might make her feel worse, or be inappropriate. But then, it might ease her pain, or be helpful in some straightforward logistical way.
And when faced with this choice, what do most of us modern men and women do?  We retreat into  a cocoon of apparent “busyness” with our tech gadgets which enable us  
to retreat into the scrolling names of one’s contact list, or whatever one’s favorite iDistraction happens to be. Technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat. The phone didn’t make me avoid the human connection, but it did make ignoring her easier in that moment, and more likely, by comfortably encouraging me to forget my choice to do so.
The key here is that technology doesn’t make us do anything.  It’s inanimate.  What it does is enable isolation.  For instance, I have been known to take my smarty pants phone with me while standing in line at lunch or at the train station.  It functions as an insta-wall:  if my eyes are glued to the screen, reading emails, texts, or e-books, then I avoid eye contact with you.  And if I avoid eye contact with you, then I avoid making a connection with you.  If I avoid a connection with you, then I avoid the possibility of you rejecting me.  I know, sad but true.

I’m still a ninth grader inside.

Admit it.  You’ve done it too!  Maybe for different reasons.  Maybe not.  But if we’re honest, most of those reasons are rooted in fear, rash judgment, or plain old laziness.  As Foer says,  

Each step “forward” has made it easier, just a little, to avoid the emotional work of being present, to convey information rather than humanity.

But I wasn’t always like this.

When I Was Your Age. . .
Once upon a time, before wifi was invented…


…and the internet was dial up


…there were telephones and snail mail.


Would you stop interrupting?  Can’t you just sit still and listen to me!?

Of cour…oh, wait, I just got a text…

You are either laughing or sighing.  Because you have all experienced this or done it yourselves.  I know  I’m guilty.  So guilty in fact, that when my girlfriends and I had our pictures taken professionally, they insisted on a shot of them glaring at me while I played on my phone.

Best. Picture. Ever.

But a couple of years ago, I would have been the one glaring.  I was a smarty pants phone hold out.  And to continue my story, when I was an underclassman, when I wanted to connect with my friends and loved ones, I either picked up the phone (a landline no less ~ I know ~ the horror!) or a pen.

And I have to say, I was better for it.

Not to toot my own horn, but bwaaamp! I was a good friend.  I stayed on the phone for hours (drove my mother nuts), and wrote sheets and sheets of letters with poetic prose that would make Emerson weep with joy (well maybe not Emerson.  More like, Anne Shirley?)  I was already well-read, and with the liberal arts education I was imbibing, I was becoming well-rounded in history, philosophy, and theology as well ~ and it showed in my letters and in my conversation.

Granted, nowadays, I don’t have the precious time I had back then to focus just on learning and relationships.  And although a full course load is nothing to sneeze at, it’s a lot different from making sure you have money to put food in your mouth, and keep a roof over your head.

 © Teerawut Masawat

Yet, when I unplug from technology, even if only for a day, I feel calmer.  I’m able to focus on the task at hand.  My thoughts don’t race like they’re in the Indy 500.  And if you ask those around me, they’ll tell you I’m not as short-tempered.  It’s not a magic formula of course ~ there are other factors at play in this temporary transformation.  But the silencing of technology is one of those factors.

Treating the Root Cause
Okay.  So unplugging for a while is a good thing.  But why do we plug in to begin with?  We need to stop treating this issue like we’re Western doctors (and I’m not completely knocking Western medicine here, so don’t start): healing the root cause and not just the symptom.

Let’s go back to something Foer said in his address: 

to avoid the emotional work of being present

And there it is.

Remember that one of my reasons for retreating into my cyber-shell is fear of rejection?  We all share it.  It’s part of what makes us human.  Relationships are difficult.  And messy.  And painful.  But they can also be affirming.  Healing.  Joyful. This isn’t a virtual world.  Things break, including hearts.  But that doesn’t mean the solution is to make your heart unbreakable.  

…most people are not crying in public, but everyone is always in need of something that another person can give, be it undivided attention, a kind word or deep empathy. There is no better use of a life than to be attentive to such needs.

And that means that sometimes we turn the phone off, we look our loved ones in the eye, and we give them our undivided attention. 

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Have you noticed a diminished attention span in either yourself or those around you?  Do you use technology as a defense?

26 June 2013

La Belle's Hobby Farm: The Cutest Cucs!

It is good to be alone in a garden at dawn or dark so that all its shy presences may haunt you and possess you in a reverie of suspended thought. 
~ James Douglas, Down Shoe Lane

nd that’s where I was Saturday morning ~ in my garden, keeping both weeds and the grass at bay, and sweet talking my green babies into growing bigger and faster.

Mothers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but admit it ~ you know you do.  Well, so do I.  Nothing beats a tomato sandwich in the summer, and pickled okra is pretty near heaven, but cucumbers ~ especially when the plants are just growing ~ are the cutest things ever!

If you don’t believe me, just look at these babies!  They have shot up like nobody’s business in the last couple of weeks:

© 2013 La Belle Dame de Merci Blog

But that’s not where they get their cuteness from.  No, that’s in how they climb.  They wrap their wee green tendrils around whatever you place near them ~ in this case, the walls of an old dog crate:

© 2013 La Belle Dame de Merci Blog
Seriously, how does that not make you go “Awwww”!?

Of course I would never say that to my plants.  The tomatoes and corn are right there after all.  Although the corn doesn’t have ears yet. (Bada bing!  Come on, you knew that was coming!)  But I’m so proud of them too ~ they seem to shoot up a foot every time I go out to check on them:

© 2013 La Belle Dame de Merci Blog

Yeah, not sure why this guy wouldn't upload right side up.  But you get the picture. ;)
© 2013 La Belle Dame de Merci Blog
Cilantro is growing into a bush ~ need to trim some and bring it into work tomorrow:

Same with this one. Argh!
© 2013 La Belle Dame de Merci Blog
And the basil is chugging along, although not nearly as big as I’d like:

© 2013 La Belle Dame de Merci Blog

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
What are your garden favorites?  Don’t worry ~ I won’t tell them.

25 June 2013

Summer Stars: How I Rate Book Reviews

A good book on your shelf is a friend that turns its back on you and remains a friend. 
~ Author Unknown

ook reviews are the bane of my existence.  I still  haven’t figured them out.

Summer reading is not much different than winter reading in my world, although I will admit to reading more stories with storms, crackling fires, and warm blankets once the real temps drop below 50. 

No, the biggest question I always have before downloading yet another ebook onto my Kindle app: “Is this worth $2.99?”  So like most of you, I read the book reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. 

And get completely lost and confused and frustrated.

© StockeShoppe

Before You Call Me a Book Snob. . .
. . . and by the way, I prefer biblio connoisseur, I know that taste in fiction is subjective.  I love paranormal romances with non-sparkly vampires, but you may hate everything fang.  You like gritty mobster stories, whereas gangsters leave me cold.  Some people don’t care about insta-love, but it gives me a severe case of eye-rollitis.  (Honey, an “l” word is involved, but it ain’t love!)  So, I get it.  Tastes vary. 

A lot.

But that doesn’t completely explain the bi-polar extremes in book reviews.  Don’t believe me?  I recently read Taylor Longford’s Valor, a paranormal YA story featuring gargoyles.  Yeah I know, new to me too!  But then there was that cartoon/comic back in the day…Anyway, Valor has the following reviews:
5 Star – 36
4 Star – 12
3 Star – 4
2 Star – 1
Someone wise once told me to focus on the 3 Star reviews: they are more likely to be somewhat objective and (surprise, surprise) in the middle of the gushing 5 Star-ers and the sometimes snotty, Debbie Downer 1-2 Star people.  So of course, I’ll start with those.

What’s in a star?
There was only one 2 star review and she complained about emotionally flat characters, awkward scene/time jumps, too much narrative, and formatting issues.

Personally, I didn’t notice any confusing time jumps, and no formatting issues (maybe I bought a later version or her e-reader had a glitch).  I would agree however, that Longford could stand to show me, not tell me as much.  And the characters could stand to be more developed.  Still, I wouldn’t have given it only 2 stars.

The 4 Star reviews were supportive, but not gushing.  One mentioned that some scenes were unbelievable ~ the 16 year old female lead agrees to be with the main gargoyle lead forever and seriously, all us older folks know how naïve and starry-eyed 16 year olds are.  But then, this is a YA novel.  And I remember being that way at 16.  It’s practically a rite of passage.  So it’s not completely unbelievable.  Although I admit to growling at the insta-loooove.

Another 4 star-er said that she bought the book because it was only 99 cents.  This is why it’s good to actually read the reviews and not just see how many 4-5 stars the book received.  Seriously?  You chose a book based on price?  At least judging a book by its cover is only slightly less ludicrous.  I’ve read some absolutely terrible 99 cent books ~ and some whose authors can weave a story like a master.  Price has nothing to do with the writer’s skill and is a terrible way to buy books.  So, thanks for the 4 star, but not really helpful to me the reader flying blind.

5 Star reviewers can bring on a case of eye-rollitis almost as severe as insta-love.  And sometimes they just make me laugh.  Case in point?  One of the 5 Star-ers was written entirely with exclamation points (something all writers are lectured about extensively), while another simply proclaimed: “This book was just sooo amazing. The characters were funny and the guys sounded soo hott omg!! anaways this was just a great story im so relieved that there wasn' t a love triangle and you just have to read this book its not bad as some people claim its quite the opposite.”  And yes that’s a copy and paste original.  It reminds me of a cheerleader joke involving shoulder pads.  That is all.

So what about those 3 Stars?

Truth is Found in the Mean
Extremes usually aren’t pretty: extreme left vs. extreme right; well-done vs. raw, etc.  Usually, the mean, or the middle, is a good place to be.  And I have found this to be true for book reviews.  3 Stars generally equals “I liked it, but this would have made it even better.”  Or “This was a great book, if only the author had fleshed this character out a little more.”  3 Star-ers are honest, sometimes brutally so, but are not usually catty or nasty. 

Thank goodness this book had no 1 star reviews.  Those are usually not worth the ink (er, pixels?) used.  I don't bother reading those anymore.  Generally, 3 star reviewers don't steer me wrong.

If I had my way, I’d want the reviews to be sorted by bibliography chops and age of the reader (although that last can be tricky; I’ve met 18 year olds with more wisdom that some 50 year olds).  Because honestly, if you haven’t read most of the classics ~ and I include some pulp fiction classics in that as well as the literary ones ~ you really aren’t a reliable judge of current literature and pulp fiction. 

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
How do you choose what new books to read?  Do you read the reviews?  Do you review the books you’ve read?  PLEASE suggest some new titles here ~ I’m ready to restock my Kindle app!

24 June 2013

The Art of Haiku

There is poetry as soon as we realize that we possess nothing. 
~ John Cage

oetry is like freewriting ~ with meter (and sometimes) rhyme.

Today is Haiku Day at the Blogathon.  (More about what a haiku is here.) 

Much like when I sit down to freewrite, I’m never quite sure what poem will come out of my heart and onto the page.  Usually, I have a vague idea or emotion I want to express; writing it in a set meter or rhyme pattern helps bring shape to the mist in my mind.

Sometimes the emotion is not vague at all, and its very intensity molds the poem ~ fierce, fast.  Then I step back, assess the emotion and the words painting it, and keep some, replace others.

Here is this year’s haiku, no edits; just a quick freewrite:

No breath here. Dying,
Even the sun has faded
From panic’s eyelids.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
Try your hand at writing haiku!

23 June 2013

The La Belle Daybook: Wishing, and Hoping, Thinking, and Planning

Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal. 
~ Henry Ford

hat a week!  Yesterday I went to a Gatsby Dance. My hour glass figure is more suited to 1940s/1950s costumes, so I had a dress made in that style rather than the Flapper Girl Fringe most of the other ladies were wearing (maybe I’ll post some pics later) .

I also worked in the garden and wrote in my journal once ~ go me!  And now to plan for the coming week:

Outside my window...an absolutely gorgeous day.  Not too hot, not too rainy.

I am thinking...about all I have to do to get ready to go to my friend’s wedding in a couple of weeks.  I really hate traveling, but once I’m there, I’ll hate to leave.

I am thankful...for a roof over my head and fertile land under my feet.

In the kitchen...is yet another box with a hat in it.  I need a 12 step program!

I am wearing...a red, black, and gold dress that has Lindy Hop potential.

I am creating...a birthday card for a friend.

I am going...to the Jazz in the Sculpture Gardens on Friday.  Swingtopia will be there, and hopefully I can convince some of my swing dance friends to join me.  Would love to don my swing threads and dance in DC!

I am wondering...why I always feel tired ~ even after seven hours of sleep.

I am reading...Pretty Little Lies by Jennifer Miller, and the latest edition of Mother Earth News.

I am hoping...to see Star Trek a second time.  Hopefully in IMAX and in a sparsely populated theatre.

I am looking forward to...digging in the dirt.  I know I said this last week, but I do!

I am learning…to keep my mouth shut.

Around the house...are piles of clothes.  Time to do laundry!

I am pondering...how I can fit more creativity into my life.

A favorite quote for today...see above.

One of my favorite things...reading.

A few plans for the rest of the week:
1. Write in my journal at least 3 days
2. Finish up to Chapter 2 in The Nature Principle
3. Extend one of my side garden beds.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
What’s on your plate for this week?