Wednesday Wonders: On Breaking Rules

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I once cut in line.

It wasn’t that long ago.

I was following my six-year-old and eager to see the clouded leopard cubs at the Point Defiance Zoo. Not realizing that the ten-foot wide mass of moving children and parents actually signaled a place to wait patiently, I chased my own little boy up past the crowd straight to where a zoo worker stood, patiently holding back the mob and letting a trickle of people in to see the baby critters in their enclosure behind a protective wall of glass.

“Um, you have to wait your turn,” the soft-spoken young woman in the zoo uniform said to my back after I had passed her and peered toward the cubs with Quinton pulling me at full speed.

At this point my teenager, who could see there was a line, had abandoned us in embarrassment. He went to the back of the mass of humans and waited for us to join him there.

I stepped back to where the young woman was, still not realizing I had cut and trying to wrap my brain around what was happening while dragging along a squirming kid.

“Did you just cut in front of all these people?” a lady asked in a voice that carried across the chaos and made everyone turn to look at me.

As she spoke these words, she looked down on me in utter disdain. She reminded me a little of Mr. Dursley in female form with short cropped hair and the air of someone who always followed the rules would never dream of having a squirming kid.

I didn’t make eye contact with the much taller woman. Instead, I turned to the young zoo worker with long blonde hair.

“Is there a line?” I asked her in a half whisper.

She smiled kindly at me and nodded.

I mumbled something about not knowing that, stammering about a need for more signs even as I knew I was in the wrong.

I literally hung my head, still holding on to my boy and making my way back to the teenager.

We moved on to the tigers, never getting to really see the cubs that day.

Yesterday, something happened that reminded me of that moment only this time I was the Dursley lady.

Quinton and I made the trek up to our favorite mountain lake at the top of Chinook Pass. Lake Tipsoo sits in a place full of traffic where thousands of travelers stop at the crest of the highway. In the past the tourists trampled it, but now the rangers and signs guard the area, telling all  to kindly stay on the paths rather than kill the wildflowers, butterflies and tadpoles with our clomping feet.

I spent a good deal of motherly energy teaching Q how important it is to walk gently so we all can enjoy the beauty.

Right before we left, he insisted we go back to view the tadpoles one last time and see if we could find that salamander who hides under the foot bridge.

“Mom! There’s a lady in the water!” Quinton said as we got to our favorite spot.

Sure enough. Some foolish and uninformed woman stood up to the middle of her calves in previously untouched mud. She had not seen or ignored all the signs telling her not to wade, not to touch, and not to leave the path. She was squashing the tadpole territory and looked like she enjoyed doing it.

I did not make a cutting comment to her. I did not, as my son suggested, tell her not to do that.

I took his hand and we left even as she spoke to my son about how cute the tadpoles were. I got the feeling she thought I was a mean mom for not letting him get a better look.

In my head, I was furious and didn’t trust that I could say anything to her without making the whole situation worse.

I wish I could have said something kind and true to her, but even as I imagine it, I can’t come up with a good thing to say.

So, dear readers, here are my writing prompts for you today:

Non-fiction

When did you break a social rule like cutting in line or stepping off the path? Did someone point it out to you? How did that go?

When did you see a rule broken and it hurt your heart? What did you do? 

Fiction

When did your character break a rule or see a rule broken? What happened next?

And if you ever successfully pointed out a transgression with a kind heart, I’d sure love to hear about that!

May you walk gently and get to see the leopard cubs,

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Wednesday Wonders: When You’re Not Done Yet

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Have you ever thought you were done? And then you weren’t?

Yesterday, I thought, was my last day of this never-ending summer quarter at school. I woke up early, eager to get to the day.

I took a shower, fed the critters, and shocked the coffee shop I go to by getting there two hours before my usual. I couldn’t stand the thought of writing at home when I had my last day waiting for me, so I plunked myself down at a small round Starbuck’s table to scribble away before driving on in to work.

I arrived at the school at 6:30 am, thinking I would catch up on all the last minute details and then use a few personal hours to take today off.

But I am not done. I have a staff meeting today, it turns out.

It will be fine. We’ll debrief what we’ve done this year and make excellent plans for the fall.

But I really did think yesterday was it. I’ve had the 16th set in my mind for months.

This tiny tale of a mistaken ending leads me to my latest idea for the blog. 

A friend and I have begun to meet and talk and free-write together over tea. We usually pick a writing prompt and then use it to write about the characters in our current works in progress.

So, my blog-reading friends, here is a prompt for you, should you choose to use it:

When did you think you were done but then discovered you had more to do?

Or for your work of fiction:

When has your character thought she had reached the end, only to discover that she had another day (or more) to go? 

May you finish all your work in good time and then know rest-

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Wednesday Wonders: Stretching Some Sentence Skills

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Not too long ago, I was correcting papers and wishing the writers would not be so inventive with their sentence structures and vocabulary.

I would see something with a phrase, a comma, or an unfamiliar word like ‘thalassemia’ and sigh.

I had an prickly sense that something was off but wasn’t strong enough on the structure to make the fix without some checking. Only after looking up the words and the grammatical structures, could I make the right corrections.

I thought to myself: “If I were writing, I would never have tried it this way.”

Then it occurred to me.

If I stick to only what I know, I won’t grow in style or ability. The writers making those mistakes did me a favor by making me stretch.

Pricilla Long in The Writer’s Portable Mentor also pushed me with the suggestion that I take a sentence from another writer and make it my own. To do this, I must carefully examine how the writer creates the sentence and then craft my own sentence in the same form.

I chose two lines from ‘Welding with Children’ by Tim Gautreaux.

“Tuesday was about typical. My four daughters, not a one of them married, you understand, brought over their kids, one each, and explained to my wife how much fun she was going to have looking after them again.”

The first structure is something I might write on any given day. It’s simple with a subject, verb, and adjective phrase.

The second sentence structure never would have come to me with its interruptions and commas sprinkled all over the place. It’s the kind of thing that gives a grammar teacher headaches, and, yet, it works so well to give voice to Gautreaux’s character and set the stage for his conflict.

Here is my version, using that same foundation, worked through with the meaning of another story:

Football night was the usual. My new friend Susie, never one to worry about style, you know, fiddled with her neon spirit hats, two of course, and listened while Josie the cheerleader was babbling at me once more.

It’s turtle-slow work, this sort of sentence skill building. I know, for example, that the last verb form I used is not quite the same as the original version, but I couldn’t quite make it work. And I sure wouldn’t want to craft like this while trying to make a word count.

Still, I do like it. I like the stretch from both proofing those papers and the sentence work. Language  holds more twists and blind corners than I figure I’ll ever have time to explore.

That’s just the way I like it.

May you stretch in words and other ways-

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Wednesday Wonders: Pitching Words

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This Wednesday, I need to pause the blog while I madly craft a query letter, hoping to be chosen and learning from the jump into the unknown.

If you have a book of your own to pitch, check out Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars. It’s quite the writing adventure she has put together.

I’ll let you know how it went next week!

May you make your best pitch and round the bases when you get up to bat,

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And just because I found it in my image search…