On July Fourth, we celebrate our country’s basic human freedoms – one of which is Freedom of Expression. We live in sensitive times, however, where words can inflame or incite reactions from others who take deference to those words.
That’s why I write fiction, where …
… names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.
It’s a cop-out, but it keeps the litigation worms from getting into the creative literary food bin. Of course, there are times when someone might ask – “what was really on your mind when you wrote this?” Um – sounded like a good idea at the time?
I revisited an article I posted five years ago, titled: The Fourth of Fantastic, where I wrote about the imperfection of our freedom of expression.
Right versus left, up versus down, it is enough to make your head spin. That’s what makes it great. People voicing opinions, standing up and saying what for. Democracy is chaotic, inclusive, confusing, open-minded, batty, and downright fantastic. Like all large families, a potpourri of multi-generational next of kin comes with large doses of squabbling and that crazy uncle we whisper about. And man, do we love to bicker.
Just for the record, I’m that crazy uncle they whisper about.
I didn’t shy away from espousing opinions in my younger years. It’s the passion of youth. Winston Churchill never actually said it, but I like the quote: “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” I like to think of myself as having one foot in, one foot out. Guess that means I have half a brain.
As an older man, I tend to avoid espousing my opinion in public forums. It’s not healthy for a writer beginning to emerge like me. Why piss off a potential reader? I don’t want to be one of those curmudgeons who grouse at a newspaper article, then proselytize my differing opinion to anyone who happens to walk by. I save all that for my long-suffering wife, who has learned to shake her head and follow-up with, “did you cut the lawn yet?”
Another quote I liked from an unknown author used to be pinned on my desk.
Speak with good intention. Remember your goal is to communicate, not just be heard.
I didn’t live up to it as I’d hoped. I was too busy waiting to spout something clever or funny, and not listening. It’s still a work in process.
I’ve historically been one of the loud ones, as if talking in a very loud voice ensured I’d be heard. Years ago, during a transfer to a new position, a colleague presented me a phone with a noise suppression device. Subtle. Loud didn’t work with the kids either. They’d often blink a lot when I got on a roll; their way of semaphoring a message, “Hey Dad, turn it down a notch”, followed by a negative post debate review. Too many years passed before I realized that which is spoken loudly does not equate to truth.
I sort of miss the days of flaming editorials limited to one newspaper and three TV channels. Today, it’s instant access to thousands of media “information” sites whether I want it or not, with more truer than fiction facts than the number of fleas on a herd of bison. As a responsible citizen, it’s up to me to sift for accuracy, some of which is more fiction than fact. When I add in opinions on social media platforms, one can get a migraine from all the freedom of expression.
My contribution to the world of social media opinionating is to avoid it (see curmudgeon on the porch comment above). Anything I contribute tends to be pictures of the grand-boys, family gatherings, something I just cooked, clever quotes, concept art, self-deprecating jokes, vacation pics, or a rare glorious sunset in a locale I’ve come to label as Wet-sylvania. We have plenty of podium prophets out there without my input.
What, you don’t stand for anything? Of course I do. When the time comes, I exercise that other American right.
Happy Fourth of July to you all. Wrap yourself in the symbol of our country that allows freedom of expression. I just ask you do it with good intention, strive to not be hurtful, and look the other in the eye to ensure you’ve heard their side as well.
My thanks again to the talented photographers of Unsplash.com for allowing use of their work, in order of appearance.
It’s been a rough spring largely because I missed it.
In December, we made a sudden decision to spend February through April in Florida. Our primary reason was to spend time with elderly mother-in-law in assisted living before she forgot who we were. Secondary reason is spousal unit’s desire to skip winter in Pennsylvania.
Who could blame her? It was a rough winter as well. My initial fear, however, is what would it do to the time I reserve for writing. I’d just come off a promise to the long-suffering muse in my head that I’d not neglect her; (click and read – The Silent Light of a Winter Night, December 2018).
Turned out, I wrote more than usual. Cranked out 40K on the book I’m rewriting, and still had time to format and post blogs on our group’s GLVWG Write Stuff Conference™ blog about every three-four days that began in mid-January through the end of March. Lot of work, but something had to give.
Yep, bless me readers, but I haven’t blogged since February.
During this rather busy period, I heard from an ex-colleague who used to follow humorous articles I wrote for a travel magazine overseas. Would I submit something for a quarterly newsletter they do? More specifically, would I write about our first ever snowbird experience in the same voice as my former writing experience? How could I turn down a fan from yesteryear? It published a few weeks ago, and he’s given me permission to post it here.
The article is in a different voice from what I pen today, but as penance for not keeping up in blogosphere, I offer it below. I hope you find it humorous, and perhaps it will brighten your day as well.
Never thought I’d be a Snowbird, defined as those who abandon the bitter winters of Northern America for sunnier climes in Florida. I like the change of seasons and don’t mind shoveling the times Nature dumps solidified water on my driveway. It’s also my most productive season as a writer, when I don’t have to answer the WYWA (Worldwide Yard Wrestling Association), or involuntarily submit to projects assigned by my wife.
It was an impulsive decision, sparked by a need to spend more time with my 90-year-old mother-in-law in an assisted living facility in Naples. Wheelchair bound, she’d weakened the past year after her husband passed-away in 2017. My bro-in-law knows everybody in the South Florida boating industry, and he found a place in Ft. Myers beginning February if we were willing to take it for three months.
Three months? What the heck do I do for three months in a territory commonly known as “God’s Waiting Room”.
Managing a blog page for a group or organization can be fun and rewarding – a phrase that should immediately toggle the cautionary button.
It’s that time of year for our annual writer’s group conference in mid-March. Since I blog somewhat regularly on WordPress, I was asked to revamp an outdated WordPress page to post presenter profiles, interviews, and conference news. Essentially, I’d be the ‘ghost in the shell’ to solicit, edit, format, and post articles by other group members.
Hey, I use WordPress all the time. How much trouble could it be?
Looking back, I ignored the ‘check details before proceeding’ indicator, and thought I’d share a few things I learned.
Get a Clear Mission Statement Before Proceeding
The group gave me carte blanc to redesign the page, which included an upgrade to a premium page for a small annual fee with access to better template options, widget buttons, and customary links. Nobody had to learn HTML tech-speak or pay a monthly “mortgage fee” to fancy-pants web designers.
That part was easy.
Once the docket was approved, we created a process for members to sign up for one or more of the over twenty articles slated to print over a time frame of four – five months. First solicitation was met with a silence akin to a high school gymnasium at 2:00 AM. It took a bit of prodding by group officers to get things rolling, but eventually folks stepped up.
Create a New User Account for the Blog
I blew this one big time. As a WordPress Premium Plan user myself, I hoped to minimize the setup time by creating a new page while logged in with my own account, then adding others for administrators. Updating a page whose original owner hadn’t participated for years with the group, isn’t the best way to go.
I didn’t have problems with approved members accessing the blog and creating a post, but like Facebook, the WordPress folks like having an “owner” available for everything. Since I revamped the page while signed in on my personal account, only way I can unlock myself is if I delete the account. The annual bill hits my account every year like the return of robins in spring. Every year I have to rebill the group. I’m still working on a third-party Paypal invoice option.
Twenty-twenty hindsight; start fresh.
- First, sign out from any personal WordPress and Email accounts that are open.
- Create a new group email and sign-in credentials if one is not available. I found Gmail to work best. May sound like a Homer Simpson “duh”, but make sure officers know how to access it.
- Then go to WordPress and create new account, using group email.
- Have fun building the chosen template to fit your needs.
- Be sure to include group’s mission statement in the blog page “About” profile.
- Have more than one administrator assist with the management of it. I suggest offering a cocktail or two before making your pitch.
It’s that time of year when I’m away from my writing desk to spend time with family out west. I had hopes to scratch a few lines between the happy helter-skelter of being with loved ones. I made a promise to my muse I wouldn’t desert her (see November’s article, A Writer Comes Home to His Beloved Muse).
Presents scattered on the floor like flotsam, bellies full, and kids down for the night, instead of quiet conversation, clutching mugs of hot beverages on a cold winter night, the adults had their eyes glued on smart-phones. I too browsed the cacophony of apps and media distraction. No wonder I can’t think creatively. I tried reading, but the oversized television screen on mute kept drawing my eye.
I stared at the Christmas tree in lazy thought, and shook my head. Peace of mind in the monochromatic world of all things life oriented can be elusive. Our heads are too often pointed downward in the bustling crowd. Even those who live in remote places are as burdened as city dwellers from the incessant distraction of a connected society. I needed to find some quiet – a place of reticence to air out the brain.
I set the book aside, closed my eyes, and imagined a small town, where new fallen snow muffled my footsteps, the only sound that of a hushed breeze though barren branches – and the occasional air pump of holiday yard blimps. I thought of a cardinal balanced on snow-laden boughs, its scarlet feathers a singular lighthouse in a sea of white, and a lantern post, its warm yellow light a beacon against a colorless palette.
The streets of the small town were deserted, and I marveled at the twinkle of holiday decorations that festooned houses. As if waiting for someone to notice, a lone white bulb was tucked inside a riot of colored lights. Like the cardinal, and the lantern, it impressed upon me the serenity of a simple light in an ostentatious environment. It’s where I needed to get my head at if I had a shot at writing anything.
I turned, and spotted lighted candy canes on the edge of thick forest. I trudged away from the brashness of holiday décor. Somehow, my whimsical town had disappeared, and I was on a deserted road in a thick forest. I shuffled my foot in the snow to find what powered this odd display, until my eyes revealed a single set of footprints leading into the woods.
I approached the microphone. “Hi, my name is Dan. My last blog post was September, and I haven’t written a thing since.”
“Hi Dan. Welcome,” replied the back-lit, silhouetted faces of my would-be judges.
Someone in the front row asked the first question. “Are you willing to share with us why?”
“I like to think I had good reasons, even honorable reasons,” I said. “Since mid-September, I’ve been home maybe a total of three weeks on a travelocalypse that began with a family reunion in Kentucky, a wedding in Colorado, a long planned, prepaid vacation with older siblings in South Carolina, a trip to Singapore, two-weeks with my mother in Florida, ending with Thanksgiving in New Jersey. Hell, I had to list it in a notebook to keep it all straight. I just got back last Sunday to autumn chores that went undone since it all started – which isn’t going to get done until it stops raining in Pennsylvania?”
Another audience member joined in. “We’ve all been through this in one form or another. It’s why we’re here.”
“Thanks.” I played with the microphone stand, embarrassed to confess in front of a bunch of strangers. “I’m glad Stephen King isn’t here. He’d be shaking his head, mouthing the word ‘slacker’.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” the shadowed face said. “Do you try to write while on the road?”
“Yeah, I tried. Packed the laptop and everything.”
“So – what happened?” another participant asked.
I exhaled through pursed lips to gather my thoughts. “Unlike other writers who can pen words to blaring music in a sunny windowed room with views of the birdfeeder, I need the equivalent of a sensory deprivation chamber to coax the muse out of her closet. You see – she’s kind of shy, and prefers I write in a windowless, spare bedroom in the finished basement.” I shrugged. “Just us and the radon.”
I was met with silence.
Sharing artwork and photographs on Social Media is fun. Sometimes, however, it’s used in a blog article or illustration without citing the artist or photographer. Google’s reverse image search can help find the artist, but doesn’t always yield results.
As a stickler for proper attribution for art or photographs, I check for copyright and always cite the artist or photographer’s name with links. Unless it’s an established art site, however, searching for the artist or photographer from a Pinterest post, Facebook, or Twitter picture may send you into a desert shouting, Who made this?
I’m always on the lookout for potential book cover ideas, character art, and scenes to give me inspiration. Like a painter who searches for the perfect model or scene to paint, I glean art sites for faces and places. Pinterest boards are my main go-to, along with a few others like DeviantArt.com, and ArtStation.com.
The files I keep are either stored on my Pinterest boards, or file folder for use in a blog article, twitter message, Facebook, or to have as a stimulus for a chapter I’m writing. Wasn’t always this conscientious in past years, where I sometimes linked the Pinterest page or site I copied it from as the source – which often doesn’t identify where they found it.
Got educated several years ago when I received a “Dear DT” email from the artist who created an artwork piece I used in a blog. He graciously forgave my indiscretion, provided I properly attribute it to his artist website. Dodged a bullet. Color me lucky – and schooled. I spoke on this in a 2015 blog I wrote, Good Images Speak a Thousand Words – But Is It Legal?
This month, I’m the featured author in the Author’s Roundtable, an online quarterly magazine of short stories for the Bethlehem Writers Group (BWG). Based on a theme that changes with every issue, this quarter is ‘Written in the Stars’.
A shell of its former glory, NASA in the near future discovers what Planet Nine really is, and has to convince a skeptical director who doesn’t understand the basics of our solar system.
“What’s this all about,” Trevor Stanhope asked his Associate Administrator.
The click of Helen Martinez’s low-heeled shoes kept cadence to Stanhope’s brisk stride as they hurried along on the polished floors of NASA’s subterranean levels. “The note mentioned recent information that needs your immediate attention,” she said.
Six months since Stanhope’s appointment as NASA’s Administrator, President Barbara Preston specifically asked him to shake things up by reining-in expensive projects and the Brainiacs who were too busy looking for ET. “Bring in some solid space science we can use while getting the Mars mission off the ground, like updated satellite reconnaissance and better asteroid killers,” she’d told him.
“Did they send a synopsis, so I can understand what they’re saying when they start throwing those pseudo-scientific terms and acronyms around?” he asked.
“All I got was something to do with all the increased meteorite activity, asteroid close calls, and TNO’s . . . Trans Neptunian Objects.”
“Trans-nep-toonia objects . . .” Stanhope chuckled. “Sounds like that Christmas rock orchestra that pops up every holiday.” A lawyer by education, and six-term, conservative US Congressman before President Preston handed him this job, Stanhope’s grasp of science was limited to high school chemistry. Where did they come up with these names?
Which leads me to confessing how I got into little big stories in the first place.
Fireworks, Beer, Brots, and other things burned on an open fire — it’s ‘Merica, and the time of year when we celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s break up letter to King George.
Going to be a hot one for us here in PA, which will likely send me to the basement writing office to escape the heat. So I’ll keep it short, and wish everyone a fun, safe Fourth of July.
May Our Fields of Freedom Never Go Fallow — DT Krippene
Oh … and turn off the smartphone. Fireworks are best photographed by the mind.
Aside from a writer’s muse that never sleeps, I’m used to finding #writerinspiration from mostly colorful photographs and art from a variety of sites. I post the ones I like on my Twitter feed and Facebook page. My favorite place for royalty-free photos without restrictions is Unsplash.com. Two of my boards on Pinterest – Searching for Light, and Characters, are both galleries of art and photographs used to fine tune the muse when I’m writing scenes.
This past Memorial Day weekend, I went on a desert excursion with my son-in-law in his off-road 4Runner. That my young grandson tagged along as well, made the trip extra special.
But – we were talking about writer inspiration.
How does one go from a visual inspiration of a colorful marketplace …
… and find inspiration in the homogeneity of a desert landscape?
First, you need to get off the beaten track, and into places most vehicles can’t tread. That’s where I discovered it isn’t the visual so much, as it is – the silence.