The strangest dream: the incredible, growing house

photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

One of the (few) things I like about Facebook is that it shows me things that I’ve posted on the same day over the years. It’s interesting to see old photos and status updates.

Today, though, what popped up was a link to a blog post I’d written in 2009, on an old blog, in which I chronicled a dream I’d had a few nights before. I keep a dream journal and often read through it to see if I can decipher messages I’m trying to send to myself. I’m a vivid dreamer and I’m convinced my subconscious talks to me when I sleep.

So when I read the post from seven years ago, I didn’t remember the dream at first. I apparently never wrote it in my journal. But as I read the post it came back . In detail. I could see the rooms, feel the furniture, and I remember the tone of voice people used when they talked to me.

It’s an interesting enough dream to share again. There’s a message in there somewhere, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it comes as the holiday season kicks off. A quick note: I’ve changed or eliminated the names of some people and edited out a few random comments I’d made at the time. But otherwise, here is the dream:

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For some reason, in this dream darling husband David and I had been given a huge, mansion-like house. It had a ground floor, three floors of bedrooms, and then an attic. Cassie, David and I set ourselves up on the third floor, with lovely, huge rooms, big windows, and lots of sunlight and beautiful antique furniture. Continue reading

Highland Park, paupers, and bodies in unmarked graves

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My scheduled creative cemetery prompt today was a photo of the monument at Mt.Hope Cemetery, marking the place where several hundred graves of paupers, convicts, and the insane were re-interred after their bodies had been found in Highland Park in 1984, when bulldozers uncovered them while landscaping.

I scheduled the creative prompt photos days ago, and set them to post daily so that I don’t have to think about them. That means that my writing plan today was different than the photo – I was all set to write about a local madam. But this morning I decided I wanted to add something more to today’s photo caption, so I set out to find a quick fact – and ended up writing a draft about the institutions where these people lived.

It was a fascinating rabbit trail – and I’ll work on “Tilly’s” story tomorrow. But I thought you might like to see a bit of what I’ve uncovered today. Continue reading

National Novel Writing Month and creative prompts from the cemetery

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National Novel Writing Month started today, and while I don’t write fiction I am using the month to focus on getting a huge chunk of writing done on my book about cemeteries.

And I’m inviting you to play along at home!

Throughout the month, I’m going to post some creative prompts on my Facebook page, inspired by Mt. Hope Cemetery. As I’m writing about my experiences in the cemetery and the residents who have captured my attention, I’ll share some of my favorite photos of epitaphs, tombstones, scenery, and interment records. Use them to inspire your own creative efforts – and if they do, feel free to share links in the comment section!

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50 thoughts on turning 50: #33 Question everything (or maybe not)

Screenshot of my results from the Four Tendencies quiz.

Screenshot of some of my results from the Four Tendencies quiz.

As much as I hate to admit it, I like Facebook quizzes. I know they’re created so Facebook and other companies can collect information from users, but I’m still always amazed when they give me results as if they actually have tabulated my answers and analyzed them.

So when my friend Linda shared a link to a quiz about the “Four Tendencies”, I had to try it. The quiz was created by author Gretchen Rubin as part of the research for her book, “Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life” in which she tackles the question of how we can make good habits and break bad ones.

I know it’s just part of the book marketing, but I was curious anyway. Especially because I know Rubin is the author of “The Happiness Project (Revised Edition): Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun”, in which she takes a year to explore the idea of what makes us happy. I haven’t read the book, partly because around the time it came out, I’d been exploring a somewhat similar topic and thinking about writing a book. I’d amassed a box full of notes and research. When I saw her book, I sighed and moved on to another idea.

Theoretically, anyway. What I really did was start researching the next book idea. Research isn’t writing. As my publisher well knows.

But back to the quiz. It’s a simple quiz, just a few questions about how you respond to some general situations, like making a New Year’s resolution or dealing with expectations. When I got my results, I wasn’t surprised: I’m a Questioner.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I ask a lot of questions. (Ask my friend Laura.) I over research and over analyze. I’ll ask questions about your questions and then go research the answers. So what did surprise me was that, according to the quiz, Questioners “resist outer expectations” and “meet inner expectations”.

I often do reject other people’s expectations of me. I wouldn’t say that’s been a lifelong thing; only in the past maybe 10 or 15 years have I really been able to stand up to people who boss me around, and to stop living other people’s expectations of me and living my own.

Except that in that rejection of other people’s expectations, I haven’t really been able to hold onto my own expectations of myself. I don’t feel like I ever live up to my own expections.

I let myself down. A lot.

But then I mused a bit on the quiz’s explanation:

“Questioners question all expectations, and will meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect, they meet only inner expectations. Once Questioners believe that a particular habit is worthwhile, they’ll stick to it—but only if they’re satisfied about the habit’s soundness and usefulness. They resist anything arbitrary or ineffective; they accept direction only from people they respect. Questioners may exhaust themselves (and other people) with their relentless questioning, and they sometimes find it hard to act without perfect information. If you’re thinking, ‘Well, right now I question the validity of the Four Tendencies framework, yep, you’re probably a Questioner!”

This is really quite accurate. I don’t just reject what other people want or expect; I do what I think is right and worthwhile and justified and respectful. As for my inner expectations? I do meet them – when I feel they’re justified.

I’m not always a slacker.

In the follow up email – because of course I signed up to get more information – I learned that Questioners are motivated by logic, fairness, and reason. They do exhaustive research and often suffer from paralysis by analysis.

And then a light bulb went off over my head: this is me, and maybe this is why I can’t finish a writing project.

It’s not that I don’t want to or that I’m not willing to do the work. It’s because, if I’m being honest, I don’t feel like anything I write has value, it doesn’t meet my own inner expectations. Outside expectations don’t matter – reader feedback or a deadline or a paycheck or even a signed book contract. What matters is what I’m thinking inside, what I’m expecting from myself: do I feel it’s quality work? Is it an idea that will bring value to other people’s lives? Is it necessary, in a world being bombarded with information, to add my creative voice to the clamor? Am I doing the best job I can do?

Probably not.

Which I know isn’t sound reasoning. I know some of my writing is good – no, great. So it’s not like I never like my own work. I just balance what I offer with what the world needs and often find myself wanting.

Of course, if I think about it, if I really believe that my creative work has no value, then am I questioning the integrity of the publications that pay me? These aren’t stupid people. They’re not giving me money to be charitable. I clearly write something they need. My publishers put out some quality stuff. They’re also dear, dear friends. But they’re not having me write a book to do me some kind of favor. I respect these people…don’t I? Maybe in not believing in their belief of me, I’m actually not respecting them?

I think it’s what Rubin means when she writes in the more detailed tendency report:

“Questioners are motivated by sound reasons—or at least what they believe to be sound reasons. In fact, to others, Questioners can sometimes seem like crackpots, because they may reject expert opinion in favor of their own conclusions.”

All of this shouldn’t surprise you. The fact that I’ve done an entire blog post based on a few lines of feedback from a Facebook quiz should give you all the proof you need that I’m a crackpot.

So what do I need to do? Stop questioning myself. Or should I?  Isn’t research good? Isn’t learning more better than not know learning more?

What I really need to do is get the book and see what Rubin suggests for breaking bad habits and starting good ones. You know, do more research.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. It won’t surprise you that it’s been two years since I started this project and I’m just a little more than halfway. I told you when I first posted it might take me until I’m 60 to finish. Now I know why. You can  read more posts here.

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50 thoughts on turning 50: #32 Nothing but the truth (but whose truth?)

I often read Young Adult books, because I like to see how authors are dealing with difficult topics in a way that young people can understand them.

In this election cycle, I’m reminded of the YA novel “Nothing But The Truth”, by Avi. I read it years ago, and have reread it several times, because it’s an excellent portrayal of how what we see on the evening news – or, with the advent of social media, online – is only a snippet of the truth. And how that truth is filtered and distilled down through the eyes of each person involved in the process of telling the story.

Here’s the premise of the “documentary novel”: Phillip Malloy is a ninth grade student. During the morning announcements, the school has a policy that all students must stand and remain silent during the playing of the National Anthem. Phillip, however, happens to be in a homeroom with a teacher who not only tolerates tomfoolery, he joins in it himself. So Phillip talks and does homework while the teacher cracks jokes. But when the school reassigns all students to new homerooms, Phillip finds himself in Mrs. Narwin’s homeroom. She also happens to be Phillip’s English teacher. And Mrs. Narwin takes the rule of silence during the National Anthem very seriously.

Phillip continues to play the class clown and hums along with the National Anthem in his new homeroom. The more Mrs. Narwin asks for silence, the more Phillip acts up, until she sends him to the principal’s office.

What follows next is a domino effect of events: suspension from school, a civil rights lawyer, national news. It’s a game of telephone, with lives and careers at stake.

What’s so brilliant about this book is that it’s told in transcript style, so readers see the actual conversations between teacher and student, parents and child, parents and local politician, politician and local journalist. There are letters from the teacher to her sister, newspaper clippings, memos from the school board to the teachers in the district. It allows the reader to see the motives behind all of the participants: a dedicated teacher who loves her students and doesn’t want this one punished (she just wants him to stop humming during the National Anthem); a student who knows he’s being a smart ass but doesn’t want to get in trouble at home (because there are bigger issues going on here, including parents expectations at odds with a child’s wants and needs); parents and politicians with their own agendas (and not always with the child’s best interests at heart); a school board on the eve of a budget vote (and dollars often take precedence over people); a journalist with her own goals (and an inability to get the facts right); a conservative talk show host charged with stirring up controversy (and ratings).

The reader gets to see how a complex situation gets boiled down to a headline or sound bite, until a teacher is ruined, parents are vindicated, a politician is elected, and a student is left to navigate the turmoil it all leaves behind.

It’s fiction…or is it? The book was published in 1991, but the premise – the way the story is manipulated, the way the public reacts to a news story without knowing any of the real story – happens every hour of every day. And with social media, every second of every minute of every hour.

This short fiction book – you can read it in a few hours – will remind you that behind every headline is a whole story, and behind every story are real people, with real lives, and that what we pass around as truth is really nothing more than rumor.

Go read it. Now. Before you spout off on social media or forward a story you haven’t actually verified or make a judgement based on a three minute news story that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story…and ruin relationships and friendships in the process. It’s an important lesson to learn in this emotionally charged election year.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.

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Notes from the Fringe 2016: Dashboard Dramas

The cast of Dashboard Dramas III, in the rain

The cast of Dashboard Dramas III, opening weekend, in the rain

The first weekend of Fringe Festival is behind us, and unlike last year, when I got to roam around and see show after show and write about everything, this year I was in “Dashboard Dramas III”, the wildly popular and hilariously unconventional show that takes place in cars parked inside the Spiegelgarden.

Less writing time, but way more fun.

It works like this: there are four cars, and each car is the “stage” for a ten minute play. All four plays are happening simultaneously. Two audience members are inside each car, and they rotate from car to car until they’ve seen all four plays in about 50 minutes.

These cars are the stage for four ten-minute plays.

These cars will be the stage for four ten-minute plays.

That means that for every show, the cast performs their plays four times. Two shows a day = eight performances. Three shows a day = twelve performances. The show kicked off last Thursday with two shows. Two more on Friday, three each on Saturday and Sunday. When opening weekend was over, we’d all performed our ten minute plays 30 times. Continue reading

Notes from the Fringe 2016: A sneak peek at Cirque du Fringe

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A sneak peek at one of the acts in this year’s “Cirque du Fringe”.

The Fringe Festival opens tomorrow, and today I got a sneak peek at the main event in the Spiegeltent, the “Cirque du Fringe: Miracle Cure”.

I was spellbound last year by “Cabinet of Wonders”, and Matt Morgan and company are back again with acrobats, a high wire walker, crossbow archers, jugglers, and more. It’s music and comedy and another dose of the magic that made last year’s show a sell out.

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No circus is complete without a tightrope walker.

The preview wasn’t a dress rehearsal, so my photos don’t begin to speak how amazing the show will be when costumes, lights, and all of the props are in place. (In fact, I don’t even have all of the performer’s names yet; I’ll add them as I get them).

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This is Timo with his father, Jan Damm, one of the performers. Timo makes a brief appearance in the show.

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From the outside of the Spiegeltent, you’d never know there was room for an aerial dancer inside.

But today, media was invited to watch a run through of the show. Even without costumes, and with the stops and starts as the cast finalized show details, it was a wonderful way to spend two hours.

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A comedic musical interlude with a ukelele and belly bongo .

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This lovely pup belongs to one of the performers. She was content to nap amidst the circus preparation.

I liked being able to eavesdrop on discussions about moving apparatus and segueing between acts and synchronizing everything to music cues. They make it look so easy in the show. But in reality there’s a lot of coordination necessary to ensure each moving piece is where it should be, when it should be there.

Which is important when one of your acts is shooting arrows from crossbows. Across the audiences’ heads.

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You’ll be holding your breath during this act.

Music this year is from John and Caroline Shannon; he’s from TheSHIFT (you can learn more on his artist Facebook page). Just like last year, the music really pulls the show together, and you’ll want to check out their CD, which will be available in the Fringe merch tent.

If you haven’t gotten tickets to “Cirque du Fringe: Miracle Cure” yet, don’t wait. Opening night is already sold out, and once audiences see the full show, tickets will go fast. Even though I’ve already seen most of the show, I have a ticket to see it this week. I can’t wait.

For the complete Fringe Festival schedule, visit the festival website.

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