Imagination and Mood

You step from your apartment onto the main street of a little European town. It’s a narrow street with even narrower sidewalks. Building exteriors change in style and color with each adjoining structure. Shadows play on the asphalt. Doors, windows, and signs beckon you to explore.

Who lives behind the walls, behind the closed shutters, behind the curtained windows? You’d like to open a door, sit on an overstuffed sofa, peek in a cooking pot bubbling on a burner, poke in a closet. You want to glance through a photo album, chat with the occupant over a cup of tea or glass of wine.

The brightness of the day, the aromas from the cafe/bar, the sounds of people engaged in living make you feel happy.  You want to climb the tower for a scenic view of the town. People greet each other. There’s a feeling of well-being.

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But the mood changes when the photo fades to black and white.  You think of something more sinister. A world war. People are not on the streets, afraid for their safety. Members of the underground plan an attack down in a cellar. A group of enemy soldiers of occupation can be heard approaching beyond the bend in the road, coming your way. A guard keeps watch in the tower.

Other scenarios? Perhaps a group of demonstrators will march through the streets in protest of an injustice or perhaps two con men meet in the corner of the bar, planning a caper.

Or have aliens been spotted, hovering overhead in a space craft, sending people indoors? It may be Armageddon. Or not. But until you know, you feel danger in the air.

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In sepia the photo takes on age, a sense of yesterday. The world is more innocent. Life moves slower. A man’s word has value as does his handshake. Family stays close. Land, buildings, and businesses pass from generation to generation.

A bell rings in the tower announcing the hour. People dressed in clothing of the 1880’s conduct their lives. Transportation is horse-drawn or on foot. Illumination is by candle or oil lamp. There’s a feeling of nostalgia when you enter the scene.

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A writer’s imagination is never on hold. And just as we can change the mood of a picture with iPhoto and the story it might tell, we can change the mood of a scene by the words we choose.

Our word selection can make a place friendly or dangerous. A street can be well lit or shadow ridden and eerie. A character can be kind, seedy, or tough. When we put our imaginations to work, we enable readers to form images in their heads and feel and care about a character. We enable readers to sense the mood. Their feelings are stirred.

Photo courtesy of Judy Lemche. Fauglia, Italy

In Search of Wisdom

A friend asked me if I had wisdom. If I was wise. I didn’t have an answer. In fact, I wasn’t sure I knew what wisdom was or what the word wise meant. Did it mean the possession of great knowledge? Did it mean common sense? Did it mean the ability to make wise decisions? The question was asked of me more than two decades ago.

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“Wild Bill” – an original pencil sketch by Reg Centeno

Do people have to be old to have wisdom? They’ve lived a long time and experienced many of the punches life can throw. They’ve seen what man can do to himself and his fellow man. They’ve seen what nature can do to itself and to man. They’ve seen beauty and wretchedness. They’ve known love. They’ve learned along the way and developed judgment.

But does wisdom have to be the province of the old? We’ve all met people who seem wise and mature beyond their years. A child described as a 40 year old in a 10 year old’s body. Or a young person described as having an “old soul.”

Perhaps having wisdom is like King Solomon. If you are considered wise, you may even be called “a Solomon.” What did he do?

In one account, known as the Judgment of Solomon, two women came before Solomon to resolve a quarrel over which was the true mother of a baby. When Solomon suggested they should divide the living child in two with a sword, one woman said she would rather give up the child than see it killed. Solomon then declared the woman who showed compassion to be the true mother, and gave the baby to her. (Source – en.wikipedia.org/wiki.Solomon)

In different religions of the world, wisdom may take on different contexts. That would be another discussion.

UnknownI recently read the novel As All My Fathers Were by James A. Misko. To me wisdom was one of the themes. The wisdom of an old rancher pitted against the “new” wisdom of younger, successful, and powerful ranchers. The wisdom of a matriarch and the stipulations in her will. The wisdom of a river trying to show, not tell.

Is wisdom what you believe or what you know? Is it what you have experienced or what you have deduced? Can it be taught? Am I ready to formulate an answer to my friend’s question?

I hope I have some wisdom, that I have a concept of the meaning. To me, being wise or displaying wisdom is having patience, empathy, tolerance, judgment, understanding, and the ability to reach sound decisions. It’s derived from experience, being sensitive, intuitive, and having the ability to put together information and reach conclusions of benefit to those involved. It’s conducting yourself responsibly and being of value to yourself and society. It’s derived from living, from education – formal and informal.

All I can say is I’m working on it. I realize how much I have to learn and how little, in the grand world order, I really know.

How do you view the meaning of wisdom?

Something About a Sunrise

Sunrises and sunsets arrive and leave quickly and are but a flash in the grand scheme of things, another quick step on life’s path. In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, during the wedding scene with Tevye, Golde, Perchik, Hodel, and chorus, these well-known lyrics are sung:

Sunrise, sunset,
Sunrise, sunset,
Swiftly fly the days …

These dynamic parts of a new day and its closing are valuable to savor.

And there’s something about morning and a sunrise. Its beauty. Its promise. Its joy. The wash of color. Early mornings are my favorite time.

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Sunrise in the Desert

The coming alive of the sky, the first sounds of the day, the promise of what the day may hold, planned or unplanned, seem like a giant helping of cosmic energy. It’s the time to enjoy the quiet in the house, the collecting of thoughts, the feeling of well-being. Time for a cup of coffee and the reading of a newspaper undisturbed. It’s time to take a morning walk and notice the sky and the wash of color.

But not everyone is able to have that morning solitude, the leisurely coming about of the morning. Some days start with a bang. Hopefully, the energy of a new day can help with getting kids up and ready for school, mobilizing a crew, or giving care to a loved one.

And even if you already know a day is going to be bad, a bummer as they say, the sunrise can offer a bit of strength, of hope, a feeling of “I can do this,” or “I can get through this,” whatever this may be.

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A Coachella Valley Sunrise

                                                                                      Photo courtesy of Carol Quance  

My favorite time to write is early, when the sun is on the rise. My mind is fresh. I may have been working on a story or blog post during the night, in and out of sleep. What seems problematic or a fuzzy idea often clarifies in the morning.

The sunrise makes way for untold possibilities. So much to do in a day.

Contemplating a Sunset

As the sun slips behind the Santa Rosa Mountains in the southern California desert, it creates a sunset washed with changing light and color. Seeing that sky fills me with wonder and a feeling of well-being. Of course, I have to look up from life’s challenges to see it.

I wonder what people are thinking as they watch the sun disappear for the day.
Some possibilities?

Wow! That’s beautiful.
It was such a great day, I wish it would never end.
Thank God, this day is over.

Hopefully, people enjoy a brief glimpse of a sunset before moving on to life’s next event. Maybe they’re already focused on the day to come.

It’s nice to know there will be another day. Another day to undo words said in anger to a significant other, another day to mend an awkward moment with a friend, another day to laugh and hug a child.

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Monet painted the same scene at different times of the day and year. The sunsets pictured here remind me why. Nature’s paintbrush is mighty and not to be ignored or outdone.

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At sunset, the drawing of the day’s curtain gives our part of the earth a chance to rest, gives us a chance to rest. The sun leaves us with a spectacular show, ready to be enjoyed.

Are you ready to be awed? To be inspired? To take a moment? Let’s.

 

 

The Thankful Challenge

Facebook is fun. I mean, where else can I learn I’m most like a chocolate chip cookie, I’m an optimist, and Happy is a song written especially for me? Where else can I laugh out loud or give you lots of love or wish you lots of luck with a simple lol? Where else can I see something that will absolutely blow me away? And where else can I take a quiz and learn I’m almost a genius!?!

And then my niece posted “The Thankful Challenge” on Facebook. And challenged me. Oh-oh. This felt like work. Or something risky. Would this be fun? The challenge: For seven days post three different things daily for which you are thankful and … pass the challenge to two new people each day.

At first I thought I’d pretend I didn’t see her post. But that didn’t feel right. So I accepted. The words came with starts and stops. Then they began to flow. Day one, day two, days three through six. Those posts can be found on my Facebook page – Carol Mann. 

Now I’ve reached Day Seven. I’m feeling a bit sad the challenge is ending. As a friend said, “It’s addictive.” And so I thoughtfully write the seventh day entry of the Seven Day Challenge :

1) I’m thankful for those who share their joys and sorrows. I know I’m not alone.

2) I’m thankful for a body and mind that allows me to feel and think, to know emotion and ideas.

3) I’m thankful for the mysteries of our universe which fill me with wonder.

Is our world a phenomena of nature? The work of a higher being? How did it all come to be? What is its meaning, its purpose, our purpose? With respect, I leave those questions for each of you to ponder. What I can say is this: I’m glad I’m here. I’m grateful for this gift of life.

It’s obvious thankfulness doesn’t begin or end with a Facebook post. It’s ongoing, whether in the mind or in our actions or in a journal. I know it feels good. Thank you to my niece Susan Beers for challenging me. And thank you to those who joined in, whether in a post or comment or silent thought.

Was it fun? The Thankful Challenge ran deeper than that. It was gratifying and humbling and soul searching. I’m glad I accepted. And with this breathtaking photo taken by FB friend Kate Porter I’ll close. How grateful I am for the eternal beauty of a sunset.

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“Sunset in Joshua Tree”

                                                                                           Photo courtesy of Kate Porter

Stopping by the Opera

The Old Met was the Metropolitan Opera’s home in the Big Apple from 1883 to 1966. An elderly gentleman I once knew worked there as a young man. His name was Bob. He wasn’t a singer or musician. I thought perhaps he worked with sets or props or lighting or costumes. But no. He was one of the animal handlers for the productions, including both off and on stage. If on stage, that meant in costume. He dealt with horses, camels, elephants – whatever animal was charted to be in the production.

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The Old Met

This made me think about the vastness of staging an opera. And what a job it would have been without the high tech innovations of modern stage production. During The Old Met’s time, it was not an uncommon sight to see set changes leaning against the walls outside. I assume any large animals in the production also waited outside. Being an animal handler back then would have been a cold, hot, or wet proposition.

The last time I was in New York City, I went to Lincoln Center, the home of the Metropolitan Opera since 1966. It was pouring rain when a friend and I left our hotel and flagged a Black Car. That evening we saw Carmen by Georges Bizet. I appreciated the Met Titles on a little individual screen on the back of the seat in front of me.

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Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center

I wondered what my friend Bob would have thought about the staging and animal handling in this modern production of Carmen. Just how were the horses gotten on and off stage? They weren’t waiting outside. I learned this opera house has what’s called The Horse Door which connects the parking garage to the stage. It’s the door through which any animals that are part of a production come and go.

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The Horse Door

The last opera I saw was not “live” or in a traditional opera house. No one had to worry about bringing animals on stage. The opera was at my local Cinemark Theater. The production was Aida by Giuseppe Verdi. Presentations such as these are available through The Met’s HD Live Program which makes opera more accessible for people. Reasonable prices. Familiar surroundings. I found myself on a Saturday morning in a comfortable theater seat digging into a huge box of popcorn while the story unfolded on screen.

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Check your local theaters to see if they offer this program.

It’s not quite the same as the excitement of seeing an opera on stage. But, unless you have prime seats at the Met and perhaps deep pockets, you can see the opera better, it’s captioned, and there are interviews with the principals as well as backstage tours.

If you already enjoy the drama and passion, the voices and music, the stories and pageantry of opera, enough said. If not, try on a morning of opera through the Met’s HD Live Program. Or attend a performance of an opera at your town’s Performing Arts Center or those staged at the local college or university. See what you think.

P.S. And writers, I wish I’d talked to Bob more about his experiences at The Old Met. He probably had some wonderful stories to tell. A missed opportunity. And it’s interesting to explore something quirky such as The Horse Door. By extension, it’s fun to build something quirky into a character.

Have you written a short short lately?

Writing a short short can make a writer very picky. Take, for example, creating a story with only 500 words. A real challenge. That means within those 500 words there will be a beginning, middle, and end. Obviously, the writer has to pick what goes into the story very carefully.

UnknownA short short is another name for the genre called flash fiction. Flash fiction pieces can be any length depending on the contest or journal editor, usually up to 1000 words. A story can have as few as six words, such as this one attributed to Hemingway:  

“For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”

I like this description of flash fiction found in an article by Pamelyn Casto called Flashes On the Meridian: Dazzled by Flash Fiction:

Other names for it include short-short stories, sudden, postcard, minute, furious, fast, quick, skinny, and micro fiction. In France such works are called nouvelles. In China this type of writing has several interesting names: little short story, pocket-size story, minute-long story, palm-sized story, and my personal favorite, the smoke-long story (just long enough to read while smoking a cigarette).

Writers’ groups sometimes run incentives for their members to try the genre and hone their writing skills. The Palm Springs Writers Guild offers a Monthly Writing Challenge to create a 500 word story based on a monthly online prompt.

Members place their completed stories in envelopes along with $5.00 and submit them. The authors’ names appear on the envelopes only. Through the contest coordinator, the stories are sent to a panel of three judges. The winner is awarded “the pot” at the next meeting, plus the story is read to the membership.

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Flash fiction contests can be found online and flash fiction magazines offer publication opportunities as do some traditional journals. I googled “flash fiction contests,” discovered several that were interesting, and decided to try my hand.

I dug into existing stories in my files to find a section or chapter that could be shaped into a 500 word story. I found three pieces to work on, and I kept Kurt Vonnegut’s famous line in mind:

Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action.

It was amazing how many unnecessary words I found, how the three stories could  be tightened. The old “less is more.” Two of the segments I worked on became completely new stories.

Titles become important ways to help the short short along. One contest editor discouraged the use of one-word titles. The titles I chose for my pieces: Jillie’s Last Slice; A Little French Pastry; and Nell, Rupert, and the Baptists.

I’m thinking about placing these stories into the hands of judges, editors, and fate. I like the feel of Gulf Coast, Gemini Magazine, Vestal Review, and Nano Fiction 14. 

If you want to challenge yourself, try creating a piece of flash fiction either from scratch or from an existing piece. It strengthens your skill of placing the exact word in the exact order, much as poets must do. Action can be implied (see the Hemingway story) or it can be explicit. The big plus is you’ll make important discoveries about your writing.

I found the whole process like working a puzzle. Like problem solving. It was fun. It was creative. What do you think?