Writers of all types seem to fall into the dreaded black hole known as writer’s block with alarming consistency. That awful feeling that sweeps across the brow, like the huge lake effect snow dump we all recently watched attack Buffalo. It approacheth nigh, then it descends, but instead of snowflakes that won’t quit, we get word drought.

But is it really writer’s block?

I’m sure it often is. Sometimes even the most cooperative brain comes up dry. I think it can be caused by illness, stress, even burnout. It feels debilitating, because it is. It’s like a disease. We get sick when something stops part of the body from working right. To a writer, being able to put words onto paper in a satisfying way becomes a normal state of existence. Take it away and it leads to a sick feeling that can last a long time or not so long. It can sometimes be cured with sheer stubborn perseverance, but often it has to run its course.

I’ve never had a lot of trouble with traditional writer’s block, but there’s  another condition that mimics it. I call it a stuck place. It usually revolves around writing myself into a corner. I mentally sit there, watching the words I thought so clever when I first wrote them cluster and clump awkwardly, mocking my inability to sweep them away so I can at least take a few fresh steps beyond them.

I always manage to unstick my flow, but it takes some time. It’s not really about the words themselves. The plot is the culprit. Or, a slippery thread thereof. Once characters take on a life of their own, they can get ahead of themselves. Themselves actually being their creator, of course.

It’s a pretty weird feeling, having your own brain outthink itself, but it happens. I’ve found a few ways to force (more like coax) everything back in line. 

The easiest way only works for the very patient. Wait it out. I’m not very good at this, but I’ve found that given enough time, the plot point that’s gumming up the works will work itself out in my head when I’m not trying to think about it. Suddenly, it will fall into place spontaneously, and I’ll know what to write next. It has been as simple as adding half a sentence to connect dots I couldn’t see until I stopped looking for them.

The stuck place can also be jarred loose by absolute distraction. Do something entirely unrelated to writing. Don’t even read or watch anything. Bake cookies. Go shopping. Play chess. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Maybe the muse gets jealous and double times the plotting muscle.

My best way is to listen to music. There is a symbiotic relationship between my writing process and music. I don’t listen to anything while I’m actually writing. I want quiet space for the voices and ambient sounds in the world I’m creating to fill. When I’m not writing, my love for music (mostly from the great wide world of alternative), often turns my brain into a plotting machine. Voices, snatches of lyrics, melodies…these can all “generate” dialogue, characterization, and plot. If I can hit just the right song, I’ll get enough of something new to write myself back out of the corner that plagues me.

The funny thing is that sometimes what I write to get out of a painted into corner takes me to a place that’s better than what I started with. As long as I can eventually get back on track, I shouldn’t complain too much about those hitches. They’re probably some astute part of my brain’s way of telling me to slow down, regroup, and find a better way.

Whether truly blocked or only temporarily cornered, anything that calls a serious halt to the writing flow needs to be respected. It may be trying to find a way to growth. That’s a good thing, even when it’s difficult to overcome.

As always, I find myself moved by stories and images of World War I.  This video is beautifully done, and for the few minutes it’s watched the viewer is transported to another time and place, made to think and feel and wish that “the war that ends all war” had been able to do just that. The lone soldier, continuing to jump over barbed wire stays with me. I hope he made it home.

*SPOILERS* (You know the drill. If you don’t want to know what happened on The Walking Dead tonight, don’t read this post. Run away screaming instead.)

Too bad some characters didn’t run away screaming. Of course, that’s not what our walker fighting heroes do, now is it? Nope. They stand up to the bad guys, be they walkers/rotters or bad cops…or evil faux governors who rock an eye patch with some measure of panache. They fight until they drop. Make that until they are dropped. And dropped they are.

Particularly that plucky Greene family. In a post right after Hershel was dramatically beheaded by the Governor, I expressed my displeasure at being gutted to such an extent by a TV show. Hershel was one of the reasons I looked forward to TWD. It really…okay, it made me mad that my entertainment of choice had the ability to blindside me that badly and literally hurt me. Even as I acknowledged the incredible talent of writers with the ability to do that. At first I didn’t even want to watch the show anymore. I know, right? Silly me. I did, of course.

Now they’ve done it to me again! And it’s another Green, no less. Sadly, Hershel’s youngest daughter. We watched her grow from beloved young Bethie to a walker bashing sort of Sarah Connor junior. I started liking her more and more recently, especially during the time she spent with Daryl. Beth became one of my favorite characters. Which seems to be in danger of becoming a character death knell. So now she’s gone.

Literally a jawdropper of a moment. Did not expect it. At all. Now, though, I think perhaps I will. For a while, anyway. I mean, they’re running out of Greenes. I doubt Maggie will be next, because they seem to be on a roll with making her suffer loss and grief, recover somewhat…wash, rinse, repeat. So I’ll be watching out for Greene-by-romantic-relationship Glenn to take some horrific head related fatal injury. Only after Maggie is put through an emotional wringer once again, will I expect some new head related horror to befall her.

Until then I think it’s time for some Christmas movies that should act as a horrified viewer palate cleanser. The Nightmare Before Christmas, anyone?

I’m not one of those people able to recall every minute of my life. When I see characters on a TV witness stand asked where they were on a specific date two years past, I panic by proxy, thinking they’re going down for sure. Of course, TV being so very much like real life, they inevitably reel off where they were, who they were with, even what they ate, and go their merry way…way away from further legal trouble. I sit there trying to remember what I had for dinner two days ago, shake my head sadly, and amble toward the kitchen in search of chocolate, which I’m much more likely to
remember well into the next day.

It’s my understanding that different people remember things in different ways. I mostly remember events and moments, so that instead of a tightly woven
single life cloth, I am a walking patchwork memory quilt. To me it’s as if my life is rolled out behind me like a memory buffet, to be sampled and savored by category. Some of it is vague, while other parts are crystal clear.

Every year, as Thanksgiving approaches, one of those crystal clear moments defines this particular holiday for me. Devoid of umber toned turkeys, cranberries, and Pilgrims, this particular memory is simplicity itself, but carries a complexity that makes it unforgettable.

My childhood was enhanced by the presence of a favorite aunt. Her name might have been a southern cliche, if not for the fact that she was indeed a treasure. It’s said that her father took one look at his newborn daughter and declared that she was a little pearl. That became her name and she lived a life of love and laughter and an infectious sense of wonder and joy.

My childhood was spent often in the presence of the special woman who made me believe fairies lurked beneath wild violets, shared my love of Misty of Chincoteague, and was my earliest exposure to a person who made up stories and harbored a dream of being published. Once I grew up and moved away, it was a rare treat to spend time with her. Thanksgiving at home was looked forward to all year. My parents hosted various aunts and uncles, people visited, and Aunt Pearl was always there.

One year after the turkey had been consumed and the conversation
savored, it was time for Aunt Pearl to be taken home. It was my pleasure to walk her out to my car for the extra moments of conversation and companionship. We stepped out into the crisp fall air that so perfectly accompanied a dusty blue sky, its drapery of wispy white clouds like celebratory banners. I cajoled her into stopping for a final photograph, wanting to freeze the waning day in time. She stopped and smiled as only she could. The moment was captured. I drove her home and hugged her goodbye…until next time.

There were a few more years and then she was gone. It was as if the brightest candle on an antique Christmas tree went out too soon. She was an old lady, but it’s always too soon to lose the people you love most. I still have the picture I took that one random Thanksgiving, but I rarely look at it. Somehow, that became one of those special moments my
memory captures for me to cherish over a lifetime. I remember that moment as if it happened an hour ago. The image, the sound of her voice, the way it felt to snatch a rare chance for just the two of us to enjoy the minor adventure of a drive through the holiday twilight.

For all our technological marvels, there’s still no device that can capture everything in a given period of time the way the human brain can. What a machine we are! And yet we take for granted the depths of our truest of memories. The tactile sensation of the feel of her blue sweater as we hugged. The brush of gray hair against my face. The reverberating sound of a laugh like no other. The way it felt to know how very precious one Thanksgiving moment could be. My memory saved all that and more for me to replay at will, especially when I miss her on new holidays without her.

So this Thanksgiving I’m particularly thankful for that crystallized instance that comforts me and makes me smile. I don’t remember exactly what I ate that day. Instead, I remember how I loved and was loved.

I just watched Cloverfield. Well, to be honest, I FFed through most of the first third. The way it started got it started all wrong for me. I have a very low tolerance level for movies that take what to me is waaaay too long to get to the story. Zero patience really. So as I started watching, I had zero interest in the tedious buildup to a farewell party. Zero.

I even walked away from it for a couple of weeks. I hated the thing that much. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with it. I just didn’t care at all. I’m sure that’s because I remember all the hype in the trailers and the speculation about what the glimpsed monster really was. So why was I being shown a bunch of friends being average people? Where was my monster?

It got better once the “earthquake” hit Manhattan. Seeing the head of Lady Liberty come rolling into the shot certainly got the adrenaline stirring and the curiosity too. The ensuing action, with a debris cloud driving itself down the avenue, a heroic if idiotic decision to go back in the wrong direction to rescue our hero’s lady love from her apartment in the explodey zone, and some way cool climbing up a partially destroyed building to get to her leaning like knocked over Legos building, was exciting in spite of my already roiling resistance.

As her rescue took place, I admitted to myself that it was indeed heroic, even as I railed mentally at its implausibility. I acknowledged the themes of love and loyalty and friendship, not to mention insanely courageous actions. I watched to the end.

I finished the movie hating it.

Then I started thinking about it. It was as if disjointed and disparate pieces started falling into place. Before long I was forced to resort to a lengthy trip through Googleland to help me understand what the heck I’d just watched. A lot of people liked Cloverfield. A lot of people got it big time. I love science fiction meets monsters meets action movies. So why didn’t I get it while I watched it? Why didn’t I love it during…it? Why did I have to have the reasons so many people loved it explained to me by the internet?

I’m sorry to say it was because my biggest movie pet peeve, extended openings (especially extended all the way through the first act) that don’t seem to match what trailers make me
expect well in advance can sometimes blind me to what comes after. In hindsight, I know I missed a lot of details about the monster and its actions that would have made me like it more as I watched. I feel like I saw a different movie from the one the internet in all its gloriously mishmashed glory showed me after the fact. People are passionate in their dissection of every single monster (or monsters, perhaps?) sighting. Their attention to detail catching is contiguous. It’s also often intelligent and articulate.

What it all comes down to is twofold.

1. Be aware of your own prejudging triggers and try to overcome them just in case you’re actually watching a good movie after all.

2. Trust the man who gave us Alias and Lost and Fringe and successfully rebooted Star Trek, for goodness sake, to know how to tell a story.

Cloverfield Trailer HD

Popular is one of my favorite songs on the Wicked Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack, but this version is like no other variation. It’s still Galinda at her Kristin Chenoweth bubbly best, but with a multilingual twist including German, Japanese, Chinese, and Italian that sounds a bit operatic. In the accompanying article Chenoweth goes into some background on this surprising rendition of such a familiar song. It’s obvious that hiring a linguist to help her paid off. To a layman’s ear her different language sections are perfection. Kudos Kristin Chenoweth, on a bold and cool visit back to dear old Shiz.

The historic story of soldiers from opposing armies meeting in No Man’s Land to celebrate Christmas together has been told in different ways ever since. A version was depicted in the movie A Midnight Clear. Another in an unusual movie I watched recently titled Oh! What a Lovely War. Different wars, same impromptu camaraderie.

The basis lies in an event, or series of events, that took place early in The Great War. This article,  World War I: The Christmas Truce of 1914 , goes into fascinating detail about the truly remarkable and moving story of the universal oneness of human beings that at rare times supersedes horrific and dire circumstances.

Sainsbury’s OFFICIAL Christmas 2014 Ad captures, a century later, the eerie, touching, tragic nature of this event with respect and high cinematic quality. It’s the most beautiful retelling of the occasion I’ve ever seen. A fine tribute to the nature of the men involved on its own, the added respect given by the donations of all profits to The Royal British Legion makes this “commercial” a class act.

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