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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Drums: Finer Things

The following is an excerpt from my WIP, The Bath Tub Stories. I am including it here because it describes, at least a little, why I consider drums one of the "finer things in life". 

Photo credit: Flickr

Aki turned back to face me, taking her cloth from my hands.

            “Thank you,” she said, and without breaking the movement of her body, she placed her rinse bucket at her feet, dropped her cloth into it, and turned on the faucet allowing the water to fill and spill over its curled lips, freeing the cloth of its dirt and foam. Wiping a clearing in the fog on the mirror in front of her with the heel of her hand, she continued, “So that was the first sunrise on earth. You see, it was the sound of God’s heartbeat that called light into the world. And that’s why the drums are so important.”

            “Isn’t that the cave by the sea?” I asked.

            “Of course, and there’s a shrine there now to mark the spot. Have you been there?”

            I nodded.

            Ei-san pulled herself out of the soaking tub, her skin glowing a soft red. “Tell her about the drought,” she told Aki. “Angel-san will like the drought story.”

            “Yoosh.” Aki pressed her hands hard into the top of her knees, groaning as she teetered to standing. “Come on, Angel-san,” she muttered. “I’ll tell you about the drought while we soak.”

            Our bodies vanished beneath the green sea kelp water, heads settled as independent buoys marking territories as if for night fishermen. I took in the bitter, salty aroma through my moist nostrils as I listened to Aki’s soothing, mesmerizing voice.

……….      [drought story not included here]     ……….

            “You’re going to the festival on Saturday aren’t you?” Aki called to me as I gathered my belongings.
            “Sure,” I said.

            “The drums will be there, you know.”

            I smiled, knowingly. Of course the drums would be there.

            “Wait!” she called, as I slid open the door to the dressing room. I turned to look at her.

            “Why don’t you come with me tonight to the drummers’ rehearsal? Come to my house at 7 and my son will drive us to the mountain where they are practicing.”
……….     [scene at Aki’s house not included here]     ……….

            We finally arrived at our destination, a gold-roofed shrine placed oddly at the end of a stone footpath on a flat clearing amid radish fields. There was a bare earthen space to one side of the footpath where a small group of people were preparing for the commencement of the evening. Men were lighting torches from the miniature fire contained in a metal barrel; women were laying out blankets and setting out the sake and square bamboo drinking cups, plastic boxes of home-made pickles, chopsticks, and bagged snacks from the convenience store at the edge of town.

            We parked at the side of the road and walked up to join them.

            Aki took over as set-up boss and the other women conceded gracefully, as if part of a choreography designed by the temple spirit. Jitsu and I sat on the corner of the blanket closest to the front and began nibbling on pickles. There were soft brown and bright yellow daikon pickles, short strips of cucumber pickles covered in a barley and miso paste, pea-sized crunchy white pickled onions, chewy pickled carrots, and even pickled cloves of garlic. The sour salty taste was surprisingly delicious. And the sting of warm sake washing it down caused a pleasant sensation in my head.

            Kenichi moved with ease into his role as leader of the men as they finished arranging the drums. A line of barrel drums on large bamboo tripods varying in size from two feet in diameter to nearly four feet in diameter was broken by a wide space, behind which stood the master drum, a magnificent instrument propped on its side so that the skin of the drum faced the small audience. Its base was less than a foot high, yet Kenichi’s head came only to just below its center. Its very presence was powerful and drew me like a magnet into the ancient stories Aki had told earlier. It is alive, she had said. I began to understand.

            Soon it appeared the preparatory rituals were complete. Even Aki had settled herself on an embroidered bum cushion she had brought from home.

            The bare-chested men performed their deep lunges and big arm circles. They took slow, deliberate breaths, exhaling with short, staccato growls. They cracked their knuckles and knees and they slapped each other on the backs. Then, at Kenichi’s signal, they gripped drumsticks the length of a forearm and some as big around as two inches in diameter. This then seemed to cue everyone into silence. Pickle munching ceased, chatter stopped abruptly, and the only movement was in the bodies of the drummers as they took their places behind their drums, moving as swiftly and quietly as ancestor Ninjas.

            Not a breath could be heard. Excited by the anticipation, afraid of making a sound, my own inhalation was long, slow, controlled. I took in more air, then even more, fearful that my exhalation would ripple the space and disturb the intensity of the transformation that was taking over our little mountain gathering. Just when I thought I might float, Kenichi, strong, muscular back toward us, slowly raised his arms as if casting a net of trance-dust over us. Then he let out a cry – long, strong, and enduring; it resonated off the tightly bound skin of the master drum before him. Without fading in intensity, his cry suddenly came to an abrupt stop and the pounding began. Pounding! Pounding that shook the earth. Kenichi sprang up into the air through the balls of his feet, landing in a deep squat. The muscles in his back worked like machinery – bulging out, down, and up, controlling the penetrating rumble of the rhythmic ensemble. The men over the barrel drums did the same. Faces contorted with concentration, the sweat began to form on their brows and cast a glow over their bare, bronze, images.

            I was pulled toward the sounds – sucked into them. The drums were calling and I had no choice but to follow, be taken, and enter. The deep, deafening vibrations of the huge instruments took over all my senses. I could feel them between my ears, in the crevices of my belly, pounding in my chest, and thundering along my spine. Close as I was, it wasn’t close enough; I wanted to be inside them. I was aware of nothing but the drums and the all-encompassing darkness of the night. The monstrous sounds went down inside me, down beyond all flesh and bone, and moved my entire being with profound greatness. Timelessness. Pounding! The drums possessed me. They took me away to an emptiness that somehow seemed comfortable and familiar.

It's alive, she had said. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reverb 10

Anyone looking for some really good writing prompts to close out the year 2010 should check out
Especially if you enjoy looking back and reflecting on the year past as a way to transition into the new one, you will really like this site. Reverb 10 isan annual event and online initiative to reflect on your year and manifest what’s next. Use the end of your year as an opportunity to reflect on what's happened, and to send out reverberations for the year ahead. With Reverb 10 - and the 31 prompts our authors have created for you - you'll have support on your journey” (from the Reverb10 website).
There is a daily prompt (but you aren’t too late to get in on this) to help you reflect, process, and evaluate your 2010, each one written by a different author. For example, the prompt for December 15 (by Patti Digh) is called “5 Minutes” and reads like this:

Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010.

Did anyone see 60 Minutes this week? There was a piece about memory. Dr. James McGaugh is doing a study on what he calls “Super Autobiographical Memory”. This is a condition in which the people who have this are able to remember everything about every day of their lives. Leslie Stahl who did the interview could pick any random day from even decades ago and the people could tell the day of the week and recall what they did as if it was only yesterday.

Can you imagine?

To date, Dr. McGaugh only has 6 subjects. It is no surprise that “Super Autobiographical Memory” is rare: most of us have to think really hard to recall most things, and even then, we can’t possibly remember everything.

I like this prompt because the act of going back in time to find the events that were most significant, and then recording them, is what helps to seal them in our memories. By doing this, not only do we capture and record meaningful moments to add to our legacy, we also place them more securely in our minds for future pleasure. I find such memories are like a treasure trove of defense tools when negative emotions rise up and threaten to dominate my interpretation of my life.

Anyway, check out Reverb 10 for this and 30 other great writing prompts!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Finer Things Challenge: Norma

Several days ago I posted a piece about the “finer things in life”, suggesting that such things are not necessarily expensive items, but rather “unassuming moments when you are caught by surprise and taken on a spirit-soar”.

I asked readers to free-fall back into memory to find their own “finer things” and to share them with me.

Following is an excerpt from Norma’s blog, 
Scrappy Grams, in response to this prompt:

Linen table cloths, fabric place mats and cloth napkins are some things I picture when I hear the phrase fine living, or the finer things of life. It connotes to me old movies (a fondness of mine) with the romantic couple sitting at a table covered with a fancy linen tablecloth, beautiful lacy napkins and crystal wine glasses filled with sweet red wine.

My uncle David got me started on using place mats and cloth napkins, even for everyday use, when he was a salesman of kitchen and bath items to retail stores in Texas and surrounding states.  One year when my family visited him, he stocked me up on samples he no longer needed.  I've used place mats and cloth napkins ever since then.  No plastic mats and paper napkins for me or my guests.  Using these things fits in with my "green" side too.  No filling up the dumps with my napkins and mats!  

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Greetings 2010

Note: This is also posted on Faithwalk

Christmas Greetings  2010

Oh Holy Night … when Christ was born. 
And He shall reign forever and ever! 
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

The Holy Spirit catches our breath when we least expect it.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

In the midst of mundane tasks, God grabs our heart and squeezes it tight.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

We move through our days, one after another: bored, lonely, worried, exhausted.
And then we fall.

Fall on your knees.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Sleigh bells ring; are you listening?

Angels sing; snow is glistening.

Days are busy; I am dizzy.
Line up pills; pay the bills.
Lesson learned; cookies burned.
Gotta be nice.
Jesus Christ! What am I missing?
Is anybody listening?

Hear the angels’ voices!

They will capture you for you are His.
He will get your attention; stop you in your tracks.
He will fill you with emotion, end the commotion, and delight in your devotion.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Dear Family and Friends,
I found a video on Youtube that portrays the profound magnificence of the Holy Spirit here among us.

Ohhhh! Hear the angels’ voices!

Indeed, the Holy Spirit moves among us! The Holy Spirit here – here with us: this is the original and ultimate Christmas gift. Emmanuel!

Oh Holy Night when Christ was born!  Jesus brought to earth the eternal connection for us with our Creator. Because of that Holy Night when the stars were brightly shinning, we can recognize Emmanuel – God among us – and know that we are His.

This Christmas season may your breath be caught and your heart squeezed tight. May you fall on your knees and receive the Gift: God among us.

And He shall reign forever and ever!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Family Update:

Eliza is in her second year at IU. She was inducted into the Kelly School of Business in the fall and also became a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. She is hoping to do an internship in Japan this summer.

Isaiah is a senior at Muncie Central. He had a great year in tennis playing tennis one-singles and receiving the MVP award. He will join his sister at IU in the fall.

Mom is enjoying her new puppy, Rosebud. For more updates on her check out Forever My Momma”.

River returned to the classroom in August teaching ESL at Ball State. My students are primarily from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and China. In addition, I continue to write. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The FINER Things: An Invitation

Photo Credit:

Once exposed to the “finer things in life” it becomes difficult to live without them. I put the phrase “the finer things in life” in quotations because I am well aware that what I define as “finer” others may not see it that way at all.

Photo credit:

There are three “finer” things I crave on a regular basis: 1) a Japanese bath; 2) Negro Spirituals; and 3) drums. 

Having been exposed to these things, feeling fully their tight grip on my soul, I feel a nostalgic longing to once again spirit-soar – that spontaneous flight that is gifted to me by these “finer things”.

When you think of the “finer things in life” you probably think first of decadence and expensive items like champagne and caviar; jaguars and diamonds.

But think again.

What indulgences do you enjoy that are hard-to-come-by and true one-of-a-kind gems?  I’m talking about things that cost no money, but also cannot be created or attained by giving yourself an uninterrupted afternoon full of time.

Free-fall back into your memory and find unassuming moments when you were caught by surprise and taken on a spirit-soar. Those are the “finer things in life”.

Maybe now as we approach the closing of this year it is a good time to contemplate these things. Let me present this as a prompt and an invitation:

Describe one or more of your “finer things” and send it to me
with permission to post it here on the Nitty Gritty of Writing.
You’ll be a featured guest blogger!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Pedestal Magazine

Writer’s write. That’s true, but they also submit their work in the hopes that more people will read what they write.

I’ve recently found a high quality online magazine that I think is well worth your time. The Pedestal Magazine publishes 6 times a year accepts submissions regularly all year round. Both poetry and fiction are accepted and their pay rate is attractive. Don’t be intimidated by the quality of work they publish, rather let yourself be inspired by a high bar that you can aim to achieve.

In a review written by Suite 101 writer Rickey R. Mallory, ”The Pedestal Magazine is a professional rate ezine, one of the very few I've seen on the Internet. They have a polished, quality look, and the site is easy to navigate.” It is also impressive that they respond within 4-6 weeks to submissions.

Go through the archives to see what kinds of things they have published in the past. This is helpful just to know, not to use as a model to follow. In their submission guidelines they make it very clear that they are open to works that are not at all like what they have previously published. “We are always looking for the original piece, the piece that defies categorization and egregiously asserts its uniqueness.

If that doesn’t motivate you, maybe their pay rate will. They pay $40.00 for each published poem and $.08 per word for fiction.

Here is what they are accepting for the next issue: “Re fiction for the February 2011 issue (reading cycle December 28-February 14): we will be accepting both longer works and flash fiction, literary and genre work. Writers may submit up to two (2) flash pieces but are asked to submit only one (1) longer work (piece over 1000 words).

Writers Write. 
They also submit their work.
Check out this online magazine!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Check out PATCH! I first read a review of this online local news publication and then checked out their website. It’s quite impressive!

PATCH, created and sponsored by AOL, is a “hyper-local news initiative”. It started locally (I’m not sure where) and is quickly spreading all over the USA.

I found this publication because I was looking for paying writing jobs (outside my now familiar territory of article mills) and came across a really good resource that I also want to share here – it’s called The WM Freelance Writer’s Connection. This is also definitely worth your time.
But for now, let me tell you a little more about PATCH.

PATCH pays between $50 and $300 per article! Yeah, that sure beats the article mills! They also have a good reputation for both quality articles and respect for their writers. If you go to the PATCH site, you will learn about the company; if you go to one of their publications, you can see examples of their products. For example, I thought this edition of the Honolulu PATCH was really cool.

Unfortunately PATCH isn’t in all 50 states yet and it isn’t in Indiana where I live. Check out the PATCH map to see if there is one in your state. If there is, read some of the articles and decide how you can contribute. If there isn’t, well, you can a) keep your eyes peeled for this publication to arrive locally, or b) be proactive in getting PATCH in your neck of the woods. There is a link on their homepage to learn how to initiate PATCH in your state.

Either way, PATCH is well work looking in to.

Check them out and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Writing Tools: Planning and Preparing

I gave my blogging group homework at our last meeting: have a private brainstorm session with yourself and list as many potential blog post titles as you can (at least 15). My purpose was to motivate production and to give them tools to do that. I also wanted to help them find direction to more clearly define their blogs’ theme and their audience.

They joked about getting homework: YUCK! And some balked at the number 15, but in the end, they accepted it.

Later, as I was thinking about the assignment, I realized it is relevant to all writers and that my follow-up should be posted here on the Nitty Gritty of Writing:

Writing requires discipline and practice. Let’s be honest, those things aren’t fun. They run counter to human nature. I write best when I am ignited with inspiration. It feels as if I’ve been spewed from my own body and picked up by the muse on her magic carpet and we are speeding around the world. What a thrill! My pen dances frantically across the pages of my journal and my soul giggles like a child. The stuff I write on these magic adventures is usually pretty good because it comes as a gift from Inspiration; I am just the lucky one who gets to present it.

But it’s not always like that. Such Inspiration is like having a date with God; the rest of writing is the nitty gritty stuff like all the nitty gritty stuff in daily living. Whether you like it or not, for example, you have to do the laundry and vacuum the floor. Writing is the same. In order to write well, we have to do it regularly, whether inspired or not.


None of these things come naturally for me! But what I have discovered is that they result in better skills and a higher quality product. This summarized the nitty gritty of writing.

So here is my point: do the homework even if Inspiration hasn’t yet arrived. Write to your prompts even if what you write is crap. Ask for Inspiration again and write some more, even if Inspiration is still elusive. Why? Because it is the act of writing that fertilizes the ground and truly welcomes Inspiration. Writing is your part in preparing the landing strip for the muse to alight. Prove to her that you are worthy of her presence, not by creating great stuff, but by creating

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It’s vs. Its

Its are a drag, aren’t they? At least for me, the use of an apostrophe between the word “it” and the “s” has always caused me problems. I mean, I get the contraction for “it is”; the apostrophe simply replaces the “i” in is. But in the case of the possessive, I always want to use an apostrophe there a well. Microsoft’s grammar check won’t allow it. Frustrated by blue line that Microsoft uses to draw attention to my mistake, I give in to the rule of technology and remove the apostrophe because I want the blue line to go away, not because I understand its reasoning.
But now I get it and it is so simple that I thought that if any of my readers ever struggle with this, you should be let in on the learning trick that worked for me.

The other day when I was web-surfing to find some fun ways to present grammar points for my students, I came across a blog with a post full of grammar tips. (I am so sorry that I didn’t bookmark that site and can’t find my way back to it now…). The author explained that when “it” owns something, just exchange the “it” with a different pronoun: his (note that “hers” works just as well).

Let’s look at a sentence I already used in this post: “… not because I understand its reasoning…” “It” is the owner of the reasoning, so it makes sense to me to use an apostrophe like you would if “it” had a name, i.e., Kathy’s reasoning. But “it” doesn’t have a name; it’s a pronoun! (Note the apostrophe I just used – that’s because in that case, “it” is a pronoun.) So it was like saying … her reasoning


So here’s the trick: just add a gender to any “it” and try out the pronoun for that gender; it becomes clear then that the apostrophe does not belong there: i.e., her reasoning; his reasoning.

All the technical grammar jargon used to explain these things in formal education assumes that we are all interested in why; we aren’t. Some of us just want to know usable tricks that help us remember how to get it right. This one worked for me and I hope it helps you, too. It’s simple! (Note the apostrophe = it is simple!)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Lover of Words

picture source:

I have never thought of myself as a lover of words because 1) I am not a very good reader; and 2) I really don’t like grammar. OK – I hate grammar. But now that I am once again teaching English to speakers of other languages, I find myself energized and excited by the cacophony of sounds that surround me all day long and the association of those sounds to words. Yes, I do love sounds and I love the process of those sounds transforming into visions, solitary images that move into new images and the words that come to mind as a result. These images deserve description – some descriptions are provided by movement and others by words.

Words! Yes, words come alive when you hear them and produce them in the midst of diverse colors, mixed backgrounds, and the freshness of new understandings. I find myself hearing old words with brand new ears. I search regularly for new ways to express simple concepts.

And I play. I play with words in my head as the sounds I hear in my environment make me aware of nuances that distinguish both similarities and differences among sounds.

English vowels, for example, which I have taken for granted for so long, now rise to the forefront of my consciousness as I teach the pronunciation of cut, cot, cap, and “ket”   - as in kettle, but my students hear them all as the same. Ending consonants also have their time in the spotlight with words like buy, bite, and bike – can’t you hear the differences in each of these words? Non-native English speakers generally cannot.

Word association runs rampant as I try to learn students’ names. Elham is the name of a young Saudi woman. She is tall and slender, completely covered but her face is exposed, an angular face with lots of sharp points, soft olive-colored skin and dark eyes. I cannot doubt that she is s direct descendant of Abraham as in the father of the Abrahamic religions. 

Abraham? Yes! She also looks like she could be a descendant of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln. There is the “L” and “ham” is the end of Abraham – both Abrahams. Elham. I will never forget her name. Another student, a young man from Thailand with a round face dominated by a big man beard and a persistent smile that shows his teeth is named Wichok: Wee-choke. Wee-choke choke. How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Now that’s funny. And hairy. Wichok. I will never forget his name either.

These thoughts are the collaboration of all my knowledge and life experiences colliding with foreign sounds that are strangely not foreign at all. The Arabic sounds are guttural and seem spring forth from somewhere behind the collar bone; Chinese sounds make me feel as if I am wearing a cape made of multimedia wind chimes; the Turkish sounds are rolling like percussion in my blood; the Korean sounds are like Japanese sounds backwards and upside down. All the sounds dance inside me arousing English words that make me want to sing. OK. So I am a lover of words after all! 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stuff Happens

It has been my intent to post on this blog at least twice a week. I’ve done fairly well for the past year, but it had been 8 days between my last 2 posts. Stuff happens.
 picture credit:

You see, the night after my November 5 post, I was attacked, whipped, and totally consumed by a violent monster: the stomach flu. I can now say that I know what it is to be demonically possessed.

Two days later, my 91-year-old mother got it, and two days after her defeat, my 17-year-old son got it. I went back to work on day 3 after my bout with the bug, but between overwhelming fatigue, the extra work I had to do to catch up, and the additional care-giving demands at home, I had nothing left in me to give to the writing call. Even if I had had posts already written, I didn’t’ have the mental energy to open the computer and click on the “publish” button.
 image credit:         

My point is this: stuff happens that gets in the way of the pursuit of passions. We have to deal with it. But we also have to recover.

Recovery means no lamenting over lost time, no negative self-talk, and no succumbing to inactivity.
Creative thinking and production do not happen when I am sick, but the stories do not die. When health returns, we have to hone in on the sleeping stories and welcome them back into our conscious thinking. We have to honor those stories that flow in our blood and at least promise them our attention soon

My spiral notebook sits under my left elbow as I grade papers and prepare for the end of this semester with most of my brain and the activity of my right hand. Images, events, and descriptions that pop into my head as I work on the day-job work all get jotted down as they present themselves so that I can meet the demands and deadlines of my day-job while still paying homage to the pulsating passions that feed my soul.

This is just the strategy that currently works for me. If it is helpful to my readers, then go for it – give it a try.

Stuff happens. That is a fact of life. It is also a fact that we have to deal with it. Just make sure that when you deal with your STUFF, you continue to honor the STUFF that MATTERS!

Write on!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Is it Good Enough?

image from

One of the problems that often hinders the work of creative people is perfectionism. Because of high (and usually unrealistic) self-expectations, we either don’t get started, or never finish. How many times have you shared a piece of work with friends, family, colleagues, or even harsh critics and, despite resounding praise and approval, put the work away never to show it again?

Not yet, we say to ourselves; it’s just not good enough.

Besides, perfectionists can’t be satisfied with “good enough” – we aim for the stars and anything less than that is absolutely NOT GOOD ENOUGH!!

Good enough?
Hogwash! That’s an insult to the mysterious and all-powerful muse! We’d rather die than merely be “good enough”.

And so we wallow around in the manic spurts of exhilarating production dissipated by abusive self-ranting. When the tides come and go rapidly, it’s exhausting; when they slow, it’s simply a life defined by manic depression.

 And that sucks.

I can’t say I’ve overcome the curse of perfectionism, but during one of my seasons of psycho-therapy, I gained a useful tool: it’s good enough.

No, really! This is a great tool! Don’t stop reading yet – give me a chance to explain.

“Good enough” is BETTER than nothing, and while we are waiting for perfection (in other words, beating ourselves up at every step that leads to perfection ), we create NOTHING.

Now let me tell you, if you want cause for punishment, it’s NOTHING.  You want to feel lousy about yourself? Try this one: I’m a creator who creates NOTHING.

Now, that’s shameful.

Roll that thought around in your head until it becomes your own. Swallow it so that you really get it in the depths of your being. Go ahead, think about it some more. When you own it, you can get to step 2.

Step 2: get started. Do what you can. Do the best you can do today even though that best isn’t anywhere near the best you believe you can do on some other, far-away fictitious day. Then say to yourself, “it’s good enough.”

Now, believe it.

Here’s a grain of truth: “Good enough” really is GOOD ENOUGH, and that is faaaaaar better than nothing.

What have you created today – GOOD ENOUGH, or NOTHING?