Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Turning a Farming, er, Mishap Into Writing Inspiration

Real life offers great opportunities for adding depth to your writing.

For example, I now know that lips do more than wear lipstick and hold cigarettes. They serve a very practical purpose, that of keeping spit in your mouth. Why, you ask, am I worried about spit and whether it stays in my mouth? Because it’s suddenly relevant thanks to a recent farming mishap.

Let me share a tip, something that might save you pain and unsightly drooling in the future: keep your free hand firmly on the heavy-duty brushcutter when your other hand yanks on the starter cord. If you don’t, said brushcutter is likely to fly up off the ground and smack you in the face. Or, more precisely in my case, the mouth.

Another lesson learned the hard way.

How could this possibly add depth to my writing? At the time of the lip-splitting injury, I wasn’t worried about writing at all. I was more interested in stopping the cascade of blood running down my chin and neck (although I do remember a certain amazement that a damaged lip could bleed so much), and berating myself for not putting a foot on the brushcutter before trying to start the thing. I am a grown woman. I know better.

No, it was my husband who was thinking of my writing career when all this was going down.

To his credit, he didn’t mention writing until he got me back to the house, sopped up most of the blood, verified that my teeth were still snug in their gums, and determined that I probably wouldn’t need reconstructive surgery on the lip. (Yes, the split is that deep. It’s not a cut, not a fat lip, but a split right through the lip. Ouch. And ick, because it leaks.)

Only then does he say, “You need to write this down. How it happened, how it felt. The blood, what your lip looks like. Because one day, Cass is going to split her lip while trying to start a weedeater.”

Oooh, yeah, I think, attention totally diverted from the sting of hydrogen peroxide. “It wouldn’t be Cass,” I clarify, hoping that my imaginary main character is smarter than I am. “But Goober might do something like that.”

“No,” Husband says. “There’s no way Goober could start something as complex as a weedeater.”

“Good point. Maybe it is Cass. She might get bashed in the face when she’s arresting somebody.”

After that, I was off. Pain not entirely forgotten, but pushed to the side, brain alive with a new scene for my current book, wondering how to describe the sensation of a lip splitting, the taste of blood, and all the rest of it. Fun indeed.

I also realized that I do this quite frequently - pondering whether real life will work in a novel, not whacking myself in the face - though it’s usually someone else’s injury that inspires me. Yes, it’s crass, but it’s also the truth.

Is it just me, or do you find inspiration for your writing in the messes we get ourselves into?

(A few tips, just in case you ever split your lip while trying to start a brushcutter: 

An ice pack helps with the swelling. 

Laughing, smiling, and sneezing are not advisable. 

Straws help – think Mason Verger in Hannibal – but hold off on sipping that hot cup of coffee or tea until it cools down a tad.)

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Save the World While Keeping Your Undies on the Inside - Try Some #Kindness

Want to change the world? Forget the cape and wearing your undies on the outside. Try a little kindness.

Bah, you say. Kindness? How outdated. How menial. It's BIG discoveries we need, not interactions between people.

Yes, it sounds simple, but kindness and the connections it builds are incredibly powerful. Every act of kindness has an impact that can change the course of a person's day and on occasion, their lives. A smile, a compliment, a cup of coffee delivered out of the blue, a door held open, or simply saying 'thanks' can make all the difference to someone.

One of the things I love to do is make another person smile. It's most rewarding if you catch someone completely off guard - the impact is far greater. I was once walking (fighting my way) across downtown Dallas during a tremendous wind storm, and as I approached a street crossing, watched as an older bird-like lady leaned into the wind but weighed so little she was unable to walk against it.

I joined her at the intersection and as the next 'green man' appeared, put one arm around her shoulders and braced her elbow with the other. We leaned into that nasty gale and between us, made it across the street, up a set of steps to her building, pried open the door, and stepped inside without incident, laughing hysterically as we caught our breath. I have no idea what her name was, but she told me how grateful she was for that small act of kindness. She'd waited at that intersection through several light changes and watched as people walked right past her. She was almost frozen in place, afraid to turn back for fear the wind would knock her down, but having no clue as to how she'd get across the street.

Helping her was a little thing for me, but it was big for her. The reason I stopped? I can see someone I love in a similar situation and I hope that they would find a helping hand just when they need it.

We have no idea what's going on in another person's head, and sometimes your act of kindness might be the very thing they need to show them they're not alone in this big bad world. And I'll let you in on a little secret. While kindness can have enormous repercussions for the person you're delivering it to, you benefit as well. 

In his book Why Kindness is Good for You, Dr. David R. Hamilton identifies three ways that kindness benefits the giver:

1) It makes us happier by causing the level of dopamine, the "feel good" hormone, in the brain to rise. The incident on the windy day with the little old lady? That happened over twenty years ago, and it still makes me smile every time I think of it. (New research is also showing that in addition to making us feel good, increasing the level of dopamine in the brain might have a positive impact on memory. Anything that helps me remember where I left the car keys is a good thing.)


2) It lowers blood pressure. Your act of kindness stimulates the release of oxytocin in the brain and throughout the body, causing blood vessels to expand, lowering blood pressure and in effect, protecting your heart. Cool, eh?


3) Kindness can even slow aging. According to Dr. Hamilton, that hormone oxytocin we talked about above also lowers the levels of inflammation and free radicals in the blood stream. These are two of the baddies when it comes to aging - reducing them helps slow the aging process. (That's an even bigger incentive to me to practice kindness, given the rapid advance of *ahem* platinum in my hair...)

There is one catch to all this kindness stuff, however. (Right, you say, of course there's a catch. Go on then, let's hear it.)

Your act of kindness must be genuine.

Human beings are perceptive. A saccharine smile, a compliment delivered with even the tiniest slice of sarcasm, a good turn done in anticipation of receiving something in exchange - all result in a mega-fail. The object of your act of kindness builds a little wall around themselves, and you lose those lovely benefits.

Still don't believe kindness works? The proof is in the trying. Practice that smile in the mirror, go flash it around the supermarket, and watch the world start to change.


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