Paint a Picture: Our Words As Our Brushes

As writers, we are artists whose canvass is the mind of the reader; our brushes are the words we use to create the story. Some paint a broad picture while others paint a smaller, more narrow picture. I prefer to read stories with some (but not too much) well-placed descriptives (adjectives and other modifiers), as they lead me through a maze of landscapes, cityscapes, and textures I knew not of, with characters carved as from real life.

Has writing fiction nowadays changed the way we paint our broad brushes? The evolution of language has certainly modified our written expression to a great extent, especially in the last two centuries. What if someone wrote in the frenetic way Van Gogh painted?  What if someone wrote as Pablo Picasso painted during his Cubist period, or his Blue period, or during his early years when his work was more realistic? An interesting thought to ponder, comparing their art to ours.

One shining example of just-the-right-amount of descriptive words (in my opinion, anyway) is the book The Long Knives are Crying, by Joseph Marshall III. As a result of his writing savvy and storytelling prowess, he paints a broad but exceptionally detailed picture of life on the Plains in the late 18th century, during a time of war and strife between Lakota and the U.S. government. Throughout the whole book, I was carried along by his choice of descriptive words. I swear I can find my way across that part of the country based solely on his knack for painting a picture of the landscape down to the tiniest detail:

“High above the frozen river, the Lakota sentry hidden inside a tangle of deadfall gazed intently at the horse and rider below him on a wide plateau. His expression changed little as he noted that the buckskin horse was following the game trail along the north bank of the meandering ribbon of snow-covered ice, moving in a westerly direction.”

The following is a portion of a bad example of descriptive writing I found online; it’s too long and wordy for this blog, so I’ll share only a portion:

“Chocolate. Three different types and three different distinct flavors, each of which  has its own unique benefits. Because, you know, chocolate is sooooo healthy. It has no sugar in it whatsoever, and has tons of vitamins and minerals (she wrote sarcastically) Chocolate may not have health benefits, but its unique and rich flavor has been influencing human actions since the time of the Aztecs,  who used cocoa beans. Historians estimate that chocolate has been consumed for OVER 2000 years!!! That means that chocolate has been around since the fall of the Egyptian empire. When most people think chocolate, they think of a yummy delicious substance that can be eaten, but what about a substance that people can drink? Not hot chocolate, but actual normal chocolate that you can drink?” (source: https://sites.google.com/a/g.coppellisd.com/expository-writing–carrie-erin-katie-aparna-stephanie/descriptive/bad-examples)

I love to learn how to better include descriptive words in my own writing by reading other shining examples. With the explosion of self-publishing sites, many more writers are taking a turn at telling their stories. But are they of good quality? Do they dare to take us for that imaginative ride so many crave from good fiction? I dare say, with the Digital Age upon us, I am concerned that our ability to express ourselves with language will continue to devolve, as our dependence on computers that think for us grows. Bad grammar abounds and I find myself craving the classics, for the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, and Robert Luis Stevenson. They were writers that painted with their words as beautifully as any Picasso or Van Gogh painting.

 

The Christmas Card List

I’ve had this poem on my laptop(s) for years. I can’t remember where I found it or even who wrote it, but it’s my favorite  way to tell family and friends what they mean to me. My apology to the author for not properly crediting him/her. If anyone knows who wrote this, please let me know. In the meantime, feel free to share this with your family and friends. I like to print it out on slips of paper and tuck it into Xmas cards. This year I simply emailed it to everyone to ensure timely receipt. (I love to send cards as they’re more personal, but the past several months have been a difficult time for me and I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget anyone.)

the-christmas-card-list

Merry Wishes for a Bright and Loving Holiday Season

mistletoe

Lay Your Past to Rest

I’m a Tarot fan and I check my reading daily. Today I got the Judgment card. With Fire as its ruling element, Judgement is about rebirth and resurrection, and laying the past to rest. It got me thinking, as cards like this usually do. Along with the usual emotional basement of hidden/repressed childhood experiences I’ve yet to resolve, I find myself pondering the mystery of my unfinished works: a sequel novel (to Rescue on White Thunder), a coffee table blend of family tree/cookbook, a separate adventure novel, another nutrition book, and some miscellaneous works. Should I finish them or move on? There seem to be many starts but few completions. I desire to finish them but I don’t. Do you have the same experience? What would you do in this situation?

I particularly liked this part of the reading:

“There is no way to leave the past behind. Each step wears down the shoe just a bit, and so shapes the next step you take, and the next and the next. Your past is always under your feet. You cannot hide from it, run from it, or rid yourself of it. But you can call it up, and come to terms with it. Are you willing to do that?”

So each book I write shapes the next book I write? I suppose I could apply it that way. I’ve ignored my writing for some time now; working two jobs leaves little time or energy for tapping the imagination or doing the nonfiction research. But this message is more about making the conscious decision, and having the courage, to let go of whatever is not working. And that includes any unfinished writing. Perhaps unfinished work is meant to be an exercise, a way to stretch my mind and sharpen my writing skills. Perhaps it’s a way to find my voice, a way to come to terms with who I am as a writer and storyteller. Am I willing to let go? Only time will tell.

In the end, it will be best to lay some of it to rest, and focus on what is most likely to flourish (and allow me to grow as a writer). I wish the same for you.

Happy Holidays

 mistletoe

 

 

Writing with Purpose

Yesterday I posted a link to a well-written article on the Dakota Pipeline project and its effect on Native peoples of that region. While it is not my intention to politicize my blog, I deemed this article, written by an intelligent and compassionate woman, an important read.

As writers, we cannot shy away from the dirty or difficult issues in our nonfiction work or occasionally in our blogs. Important issues, however difficult or delicate, must be discussed. It is, in my opinion as a writer, our duty to use our words and to string them together in a way that educates, enlivens, and fills those who read our blogs/books/articles with a sense of purpose and to motivate. And as a Native person, I simply CANNOT ignore this subject and therefore I must write this post with a sense of purpose.

This pipeline is a major issue that will affect far more people (and animals and nature in general) than Native peoples. A friend of mine from here in NorCal left for the Dakotas with his wife several days ago. They’re bringing clothing donations directly to the people on the front lines. With everything that’s happened thus far – hosing innocent protesters with icy water in already freezing temperatures, for example – I am concerned about their safety (and the safety of all those brave warriors on the front lines there). Is this going to be a repeat of what happened in Pine Ridge in the early 70s, leaving an innocent man (Leonard Peltier) to rot in jail for the rest of his life because of a clash of cultures? I fear we may, as a nation, walk that ugly path again but I hope not. I hope many of us have learned from that debacle and history, in this case, will not repeat itself.

We as writers are obligated to write our stories with purpose, even if they offend some folks (hey, we can’t please everyone, right?). We are obligated to be truthful and use integrity as a tool, not a weapon.

For those of you who might be interested in helping the warriors on the front lines in some way, here are a few web links:

  1. http://sacredstonecamp.org/
  2. https://nodaplsolidarity.org/
  3. https://www.gofundme.com/sacredstonecamp
  4. http://standingrock.org/
  5. http://www.nodapl.life/

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We Are All Related)