Sunday, October 6, 2013

Advice to writers . . . that I need to hear myself

Here is some advice about writing for publication.

1.  Phase one: Inspiration strikes . . . write like crazy.  Write everything.  Don't stop.  Don't edit.  Just let it flow . . . every idea that shows up.  Keep writing during this phase when there isn't real inspiration.  Write badly. Write your confusion.  Write your doubts about your writing, if need be.  Keep writing on your topic until it feels like you've said what needs saying.

2.  Phase two:  Stop writing and read what you've written several times.  Notice what is good, what is useful.  Notice when you repeat yourself without a clear purpose. (My first editor told me, wisely:  “When you repeat yourself and go on and on you insult the reader. Teachers may need to repeat themselves.  Good writers say it once . . . well.” )

3.  Phase three:  EDIT.  Editing means making it better.  Cut, cut, cut . . .  even favorite paragraphs if they are redundant or fuzzy.  Rewrite sentences that are awkward. Aim for the highest clarity and simplicity.  Don't try and show off your writing skills using jargon.   Check to see if you repeat a word within a paragraph or nearby.  Always vary word choice in proximity.  E.g.  "Normally we like to see the temperature within the normal range."  or  "When trying to relax, be sure to relax all of the muscles in your arm."   This kind of sloppy writing is often present in your first fast draft.  ALL writers do this.  But, they fix it in the editing phase.

4. Phase four:  Read what you've written as if you were a smart reader who doesn't know your topic

 5.  Phase five:  Edit some more. Rewrite. Make it clearer.  Get rid of anything that isn't directly to your purpose.  Be ruthless.  Add only if it is essential to the edit.

Most new writers probably never realize that more than half of writing is done in phases 2-5.  But what you may not know is that this work is often really satisfying and sometimes FUN!   You get to sit down at your computer to improve something that already exists.  You get to find a better word to say what you mean.  You get to throw out extra stuff that wastes peoples time.  You get to be a WRITER.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The life of a knitted cap

The story of the knitted hat . . .

About a decade ago my friend Dalla Brown from Canada began treatments for a cancer diagnosis.  To support her recovery I commissioned my sister, Cheryl Madson of Bothell, WA (who is a marvelous knitter) to make a special funny cap in case the need arose. I picked out the wild and crazy wool at a little shop in Half Moon Bay.  Cheryl knitted it and shipped it to me in California.  I sent it to Dalla in Gananoque, Ontario. After keeping the cap for a few years, Dalla returned it to me; and I sent it to be worn by my good friend, Trudy Boyle, another Canadian lady then living in Calgary.  When she began her chemo she started a collection of hats/caps to wear.  A few years later, after Trudy’s lovely hair had all grown back in, and curly to boot, she returned the cap to me.  I shipped it recently to Canada, to Toronto, where a special friend and former student of mine, Monica Romig Green, was living.  Monica is a Spiritual Director and Counselor.  Now that her treatments are complete and her hair is growing back she returned it to me.   Today I mail the cap to my dear sister in law, Lynn Ryan, who is in Virginia and in the middle of her treatment schedule.  I hope that she will wear it occasionally with a smile remembering the others who have worn this cap during their journey.  The cap is a little large, so some wear it by rolling over the band or on top of a scarf or other skullcap.  It is my hope that the cap will continue its journey on to cheer on the recovery of others who will be taking this adventure.

Thank you, Cheryl, for beginning this tradition.
August 27, 2013 
Patricia Ryan Madson

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Everyday pleasures . . . folding the sheets

There are moments when my heart seems full and happy.  
Rituals that result in ordinary life being lived often provide this experience.  A deeply satisfying weekly event involves laundry.  It always happens on Sundays, with rare exceptions.  Sunday is "change the sheets day."  I can't remember when we set Sunday as the day when our sheets would be switched out.  But, it seems to work well.  Sunday is a good time since it's rare that we are rushing off first thing.  

When we rise on Sunday Ron helps me to strip the bed, take the sheets to the washing machine and start the machine doing its work. Then we pull out the new, clean sheets, adjusting if the weather has gotten colder or warmer, and we make the bed, pulling on the fleece blankets and ending with a heavy velvety quilt spread that we've had for years.  The bed is clean and made and ready for the week ahead.

And, as the morning progresses the old sheets are laundered and put in the dryer.  An hour later I am able to take the fragrant sheets from the dryer and fold them for putting away.  And, then comes the moment when I place the folded sheets in the linen closet pictured above.  Just so you don't think I'm TOO fussy you can see that the sheet piles are not perfect.  The shelf above has our super warm winter fleece sheets, one of life's great luxuries.  The bottom shelf holds five sets of jersey cotton sheets.

The moment that I want to celebrate here is the moment that I place the laundered sheets in the closet each week.  That simple action fills me with a wonderful sense of accomplishment, order and peace.  A cycle is complete.  I have done my part in taking care of the objects that serve my life (in this case, the sheets).  The fact that I have several sets of sheets, a working washing machine and dryer, water to wash and electricity to power the machines . . . it's all wonderful.  I am filled with thanksgiving for the everyday miracles of having a warm bed to sleep in, soft sheets to cover me and the strength to do my small part in keeping it all working.   Everyday life is the way.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A tribute to Dalla Brown

A truly remarkable woman, my friend Dalla Brown of Gananoque, Ontario died on March 14, 2013.  Her friends and family are giving a celebration of her life on March 22 at the local Legion in Gananoque.  I have asked Dalla's son Stephen Brown to read these thoughts for me.  

These are some thoughts by Patricia Ryan Madson who lives in California.  She was friends with Dalla since 1979.  They met dancing Tai Chi with Al Huang. She asked me to read this for her today. 

I would like to join the party that has come together today to celebrate the wonderfulness of Dalla Brown. I know her as a friend.  In fact I can say easily . . . she was my best friend.  "BFF" they say in the language of texting shorthand.  Best Friends Forever! And we are.  But Dalla would never have wasted time texting, I might add.  She had too much good sense for this. She was too busy looking at the natural world and being helpful to others.

Dalla's great gift was to turn an ordinary life into a work of art.  She touched everything with attention and respect.  She lived lightly on the earth, never wasting anything, and always attending to living things with great care.  I remember once a bird's nest that she watched over at Hawkline. She knew all the creatures who lived in her vicinity.  I don't know if she gave them names . . . but she was aware of life all around her. 

Some of you know that Dalla and Jeremy were frequent visitors at our home in California during the winter months until her health made travel difficult.  They were "snowbirds" who escaped the worst of the Canadian slush by sharing a month with us under mild California skies.  We loved having them near to celebrate the holidays.  

My favorite image of Dalla was in the early morning.  She would often rise quietly before dawn and ascend the stairs from the guest room to sit silently in our living room, wearing her nightclothes.  She always made herself a warm mug of tea and sat on our white sofa cradling the tea while watching the dawn light.  Like a Madonna of the morning Dalla was all there experiencing the ordinary event of daybreak . . .  finding in these moments deep communion with nature, with the light and the dark, with the seasons and with the unmistakable perfection of life "as it is". She was something of a Zen master without all the nonsense or incense.

I learned from her what it means to tune in to the natural world.  This simple wisdom is all too rare these days in a world where we miss the sunrise because we are toying with some electronic device.  Dalla never let technology spoil her relationship to the natural world and the changing of the leaves.  She noticed everything.

I could go on for paragraphs about Dalla the artist . . . the artist in the garden, the artist in the kitchen, the artist in the studio. (oh, how we loved to do art together!) but mostly she was an artist of EVERYDAY LIFE.  She was the best friend I've ever known . . . patient, loyal and always there when I needed her.  I shall miss her wry humor and her loyalty as a friend.  Ron just mentioned that his favorite thing was to hear her burst into laughter.  She had the most delightful and energetic laugh! 

Her laugh and her wisdom will stay with me forever.  It won't be possible to bake a loaf of bread without thinking of Dalla and her practical advice about how to tell if the proportions of flour were right in the bread mixer.  She cooked by instinct, teaching me how to improvise in the kitchen.  I wrote a chapter about her in my book, Improv Wisdom.  "Try-See" was her motto.

I am grateful to Dalla for introducing me to other of her women friends:  Joan, Pat and Elsa as well as her sister Stephanie and daughter Wendy.  I know each of you will join me in the celebration of her friendship. And we treasure the deep love we have for Jeremy, Dalla’s great partner in the dance and for Dalla’s sons (of whom we best know Stephen.)

We would like to be there today to raise a toast and tell a story about this most wonderful of women. Well, we are in spirit.  So our spirit joins with you in Gananoque.  All hail our precious Dalla.  And may the angels of friendship surround Jeremy and be with him and the family.

Love, love and more love
Patricia Ryan Madson and Ron
March 18, 2013