Near 500 words about this or that or the other

I know. I know. This post isn’t quite 500 words. But it could be. You see, it’s time to make a decision.

It’s been a long and winding road with Lady P.P. Now something says that I should let it be. At least, for a while. What shall I do with Wednesdays? Over the past several years, I have posted longer pieces for the Wednesday posties.

I spent all of 2014 on a short story blitz. A famous short story became a prompt for one of my short stories. In 2015, Uncle Bardie took on “Hamlet”. In 2016, it was the humorous novel, “Politics in America” which really couldn’t compete with real life American politics. 2017 was the Year of Lady Wimpleseed-Prissypott.

So what now? I’ve been debating. I do have some ideas. Possibly a humorous mystery novel, “The Great Squirrel Caper”.

But then again, maybe I should take a break from the longer stuff and compose a number of five-hundred word pieces, give or take a few words. The pieces will be about this or that or the other. Some humorous and others a bit serious. Nothing that causes the fumes to come out your ears. After all, this is entertainment, not earth-shaking.

Maybe give something a historical perspective, such as what were the Cave Dudes and Dudettes like. It’s always good to get back to the good ol’ days when I was something of a fool on a hill. Or reflect on a word like “wrangler”. Or just which end of a dragon does the flame shoot from. Or what would the Abominable Snowman wear on a hot summer night. Or it might be a short story. Or maybe I’ll just hang loose with Michelle or Lady Madonna.

The thing is that I shall try to keep it as close to five hundred words. No long speeches.

And you being my faithful followers, Uncle Bardie would love your input. You might even make a suggestion or two. As the Eliza Doolittle song goes:

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A Moment of Grace

Have you ever fallen in love with a short story? I have. “I Stand Here Ironing” by Tillie Olsen, “A&P” by John Updike, “The Dead” by James Joyce, “A Temporary Matter” by Jhumpa Lahiri, and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” by Ernest Hemingway are just a few I love. “After Rain” is another. It’s a real charmer.

“After Rain” is the title story of a William Trevor short story collection. In the story, Trevor returns to one of his on-going themes, the exploration of a woman’s inner life, her alienation from her environment, her loneliness, and her dignity in the face of that loneliness.

If ever there was a woman in purgatory, it is Harriet. Harriet, a thirty-year-old English woman, had plans. For vacation, she was going to an island spa with her lover. Until he dumped her.

Pensione Cesarina is the consolation prize she gives herself. She chose the Italian hotel because her parents vacationed there when she was a child. Not only is she faced with her own failures at love, her parents were failures as well, both having committed adultery, then divorced.

The story begins in the dining room of the hotel. From her table for one, she orders the same wine she’s ordered all the other nights of her stay. All she has done for the past eleven days is read and stroll through the town and visit the church, not as an act of faith but rather as something to do to pass the time.

Trevor gives us sentence upon sentence, detail upon detail, of the life of the room. He contrasts the four solitary diners with the gregariousness of the other parties, detailing each with their own individuality.

As Harriet sits and dines, moments with her former lover flood back into her thoughts, intensifying her loss. She questions why she made this return visit to the place her parents chose to bring her. She wonders not why her affair had to end, but why did it end before the holiday and not after. It seems like her life has been made up of endings. Unlike the beginnings of young love in the room. Two young Englishmen are hooking up with two Belgian girls. One a stylist, one studying the law.

One of the other solitaries, an older man, joins her at her table. This is the only time in the story when Harriet carries on a conversation. And it’s a conversation with someone she sees as an intruder. Instead of listening to his words, she finds herself daydreaming of what might have been if only her lover had not dumped her. After the older man leaves, she realizes that he was lonely just like her. It is becoming obvious that she is oblivious to her surroundings.

And to what should have been obvious to her. She was unable to see her parents’ divorce coming. She has been unable to see that she has fallen in with lovers who aren’t up to her desire for more in a relationship.

The next morning, a stroll through the town and a seat on a park bench and a rehashing of a conversation between herself and her former lover. She missed all the signs. She was convinced she was happy. Then she’s on for more of the town and then, to get out of the rain, a cappucino and the memories of her parents taking delight in this place.

In the center of the town is the Church of Santa Fabiola. Harriet wanders inside and sees a painting of the Annunciation. Then Trevor describes this painting that will change Harriet’s life in as much detail as any other single thing in the story.

The Annunciation in the church of Santa Fabiola is by an unknown artist, perhaps of the school of Filippo, no one is certain. The angel kneels, grey wings protruding, his lily hidden by a pillar. The floor is marble, white and green and ochre. The Virgin looks alarmed, right hand arresting her visitor’s advance. Beyond—background to the encounter—there are gracious arches, a balustrade and then the sky and hills. There is a soundlessness about the picture, the silence of a mystery: no words are spoken in this captured moment, what’s said between the two has been said already.

Harriet’s eye records the details: the green folds of the angel’s dress, the red beneath it, the mark in the sky that is a dove, the Virgin’s book, the stately pillars and the empty vase, the Virgin’s slipper, the bare feet of the angel. The distant landscape is soft, as if no heat has ever touched it. It isn’t alarm in the Virgin’s eyes, it’s wonderment. In another moment, there’ll be serenity.

When she leaves the church, Harriet notices a change in herself. The rain has cleared things out. The heat has been replaced by a coolness emanating on the road. A bird sings. It seems like the world around her has been invaded by softness.

She returns to the Pensione and walks in the garden. She struggles to make “a connection to that she knows is there.” Then it comes to her. “The Annunciations was painted after rain.” And so the story continues for a few pages more, revealing that change of hers to her. She has been given the grace to continue her life but not in the isolation and alienation she once felt. She is now connected to the world around her.

This is not the only story in the collection where the supernatural impacts the mortal. In “Lost Ground”, a Catholic saint appears to a Protestant teenager. As the stories reveal, sometimes the supernatural can bring grace, sometimes not. It all depends on our response.

A Tuesday Xtra: Reading Like a Writer

A writer is a reader just like a musician listens to music. If you are like me, books on writing are included with the novels, short stories, memoirs and histories you read. My advise to read broadly. Everything is worth a read, even the ingredients on your cereal box. There are many great books on writing. After reading a slew of them, I’ve come to one conclusion. Keep my reading on writing to a short list. Then read them not just once but many times over. In addition to a dictionary and a thesaurus, here’s a list of nine books that you can’t go wrong with.

1.Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose. Before a writer becomes a writer, they read. Francine Prose teaches writer how to read in ways that benefit their writing. She offers some helpful suggestions on what to read as well.

2.Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. This small, inexpensive guide lays down the style rules for the road.

3.Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing by Elmore Leonard. Elmore Leonard sold millions of books. If you’re thinking why should I pay attention to him, there’s no better reason than that. At least be aware of these rules before breaking them.

4.The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story by Frank O’Connor. Frank O’Connor was an Irish master of the short story. In this guide, he calls attention to the short story writers who matter. Even if a writer is not thinking about writing short stories, this is relevant to any potential fiction writer.

5.On Writing by Stephen King. Both a memoir and a guide on writing, this book has become a classic. We all know Stephen King and how many books he has sold. Here’s his insights to the writer’s trade. I would suggest you read this one “zestfully”.

6.This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley. This is a short book but it is filled with much wisdom on how to carve a novel out of novel. Walter Mosley has done this with his mysteries again and again.

7.The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray and Brett Norris. This handy dandy workbook is designed for the potential novelist who has a full-time job. Through a series of exercises, the writer will have a finished novel at the end of a year by working a few hours each week. Using the work of well-known writers, it shows the writer how to take an idea and run with it, how to structure plot, how to scene. Each exercise is designed to prompt the writer with their own work.

8.Anatomy of Story by John Truby. Once a writer has a first draft, what are the things that they have to look for when evaluating their text. John Truby lays down twenty-two elements that go into creating a great novel or screenplay.

9.What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund. How important is the appearance of words on a page to a reader? This book calls attention to an element many of us writers totally ignore.

 

Root-a-toot Tavi, Ideas and All

Writers are asked, “Where do you get your ideas?””

The thing is every one of us get ideas all the time. The difference between the creative artists and the rest? We listen. When we have an idea we think is interesting, we don’t judge whether it is a good idea or a bad one. We take it out and play with it for a while.

And don’t forget it’s all about the play. We say musicians play, not musicians work. Actors role play, not role work. When we writers forget we are playing, not working, that is when we have a case of the writer’s block.

Once we are finished playing, we are not the best judge of whether the results are good or bad. Whether it worked or not.

I once heard the screenwriter William Goldman assert the same thing. He said that making movies was always risky. No one knew whether a movie would be well-received or not. Then he told the story about a movie he wrote the screenplay for: “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. After the movie was released, he and the director were walking down the street in New York City one evening. They saw this line around the block. When they found out that the line was to “Butch Cassidy”, they were surprised. Pleasantly so. But still surprised.

And when you play, accidents happen. During a session in a recording studio, Bob Dylan was working on “Like a Rolling Stone”. The musicians took a break. Al Kooper was just hanging out. During the break, he sat down at the organ and started playing around. Dylan walked back into the room and said, “That’s it.” That organ music Kooper played became the beginning of the song.

All creativity is risky. So take a chance and be brave. Nothing is more fun, and rewarding, than playing with an idea. If you don’t believe me, look at how many creatives have long lives. That kind of playing keeps us young.

And the more you listen the more the ideas come. It’s a big sandbox out here. So do yourself a favor. The next idea you have, try playing with it. Who knows? You might be just as surprised as I was when I got “Root-a-toot tavi, I’m so savvy,” I just had to play with it. Here are the results:

Root-a-toot Tavi

Root-a-toot tavi
I’m so savvy
So savvy as all

Swinging on a star
Being who I are
Having me a ball

Root-a-toot chili
Burgers on the grilly
Cook’s standing tall

Running up the hilly
Jack and Jilly
Going to the mall

Root-a-toot billy
I’m so silly
Dancing down the hall

So just look up
Drink from the cup
Spring, summer and fall

Root-a-toot wavy
Stir up the gravy
Step out for the call

Lighter feet, baby
Don’t step heavy
Do give it your all

Root-a-toot tootsy
Don’t give a hoot-sy
Go break down that wall

Kick up your boot-sy
And doodley scoot-sy
Never ever stall

Root-a-toot dabby
Be kind of fabby
John, George, Ringo, Paul

Go catch a cabby
Take a trip happy
Have yourself a ball.

How about you? Any ideas lately?

A Brand New Year

Hip hip hooray! We made it through 2016. Now there’s a whole new year on the horizon. I am not saying it will be better or it will be worse. All I am saying is there’s 365 days ahead of us and we get a new start. It’s my hope that one of your New Year’s Goals is to continue to check out Uncle Bardie’s Stories & Such.

Before I go into my hashing and rehashing, I just want all of you, my friends, to know how much I appreciate all that you do. Blogging for me is like being a member of a large circle of a community.

I try to keep up with the posts in my Reader. In addition, late at night when moi has a case of the insomnias, I go roving through the posts of people who have given me a like or a comment. That’s a great way to find new blogs. I may not follow you or make comments on your latest blog posts but I am grateful for the posts. And for your generosity.

Only another blogger would understand how much work and thought goes into each post. We send them out into the world with hope that they will find a friend or two and touch someone with a blessing. Your generosity and your hard work is much appreciated from this end of the galaxy.

Now for some hashing and rehashing. Over the past two and a half years, I have had the great pleasure of giving you Stories & Such. I hope you have enjoyed them as much as I have making them.

For the last year or so, Uncle Bardie posted five posts a week. Sundays have been a free-for-all anything-goes kind of post. Mondays a weekly movie. Wednesdays an on-going novel called “Politics in America” and the Man from Weazel Sneeze. Thursdays a weekly music selection. And Fridays a Creative Artist.

Uncle Bardie’s been doing a heap of thinking lately. That means that he’s been ramming his head against the wall to shake his brain loose. Long time ago Uncle Bardie started with three posts a week. Beginning this week, he will return to three posts a week.

Why cut back? Doing five posts a week consumes a lot of seconds and minutes and hours. I have come to realize that it’s time to get on with some longer writing projects. I have several long stories and a novel that needs serious editing. Only by cutting back on the posting can I get to those projects.

So here’s the plan. Sundays will continue to be a free-for-all. Fridays will combine three weekly posts–Friday’s Creator Corner, the Weekly Music Pick and the Movie of the Week–into one and retitle the new post “Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight”. Each week will feature one of the three on a rotating basis with an occasional re-ordering to honor someone or something specific or just because I want to be ornery that week.

Wednesdays are for an on-going project. In 2014, I spent a year of Wednesdays creating short stories in response to a series of short story prompts. Fifty-five to be exact. 2015’s Wednesdays were a humorous look at “Hamlet”. 2016 brought y’all “Politics in America”, a satirical response to the presidential campaign. Come February 1 of the new year that will sink over the horizon Titanic-style.

But Wednesday’s comedy will not be over. On top of that, it will not end. There will be more comedy. As Zero Mostel sang in “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum”, there will continue to be comedy.

That comedy will come in the form of a very loosely based historical humorous novel called “The Absolutely Unbelievable Extraordinary of Lady Wimpleseed Prissypotte”.

The Adventures take place at the end of the nineteenth century. The daughter of a rich American is pressured into marrying a British Lord. Momsie wants a title in the fam. The Lord the daughter marries has one foot in the cemetery and one in the grave. In chapter three, her new hubby croaks in a bowl of soup. Suddenly the heroine doesn’t know what to do with herself, so she goes in pursuit of True Love. Or at least a good orgasm.

The novel has bandits, Mata Hari, Tarzan, big game hunters, Queen Victoria and three of the nicest ghosts ever to haunt a British manor house. If that wasn’t enough, it has mud pies, steamboats, and Istanbul. Loosely based on the old serial, “The Perils of Pauline”, it was a lot of fun to write. I hope it’s as much fun to read.

I want to close out this post by wishing you a Happy New Year for 2017. And leave you with the wonderful Renee Fleming singing Cesar Franck’s “Panis Angelicus”.