Monday, February 27, 2012

What Inspires Our Best Work?

Alan Menken
Before the Oscar gala, I watched a piece on Sunday Morning about the person--a person who's alive--who has won the most Oscars. Many possibilities flicked through my mind, a few I thought might be sure bets. But when they said his name, my response was Alan who?

Then they cued the music. OH! THAT guy!

Alan Menken, a composer, has won eight Oscars and been nominated a remarkable 19 times. I've been singing along with the fruits of his creative genius for years. First hit musical: Little Shop of Horrors. And wait till you see a list of his other credits, which includes the music for Beauty and the Beast.

If you already knew all of this, YAY, YOU!

During the interview segment, he described his musical style as "infectious, vulnerable, unguarded, joyful ... basically kind of childlike, in a way." Then he added the line that caused me to grab a pen and write it down.
"I do my best work when I'm serving something bigger than myself."
I felt like he strummed the harp of my writing heart with those words.

I've watched the CBS piece a few times online. Each replay, I am more filled with Menken's enthusiasm, and I am singing louder.
  • Childlike
  • Vulnerable
  • Infectious
  • Enthusiastic
  • Something people want to share
  • Serve something bigger than yourself

Seems like a good set of inspiration for any creative type to me.
Bonus link for your perky pleasure: Little Shop of Horrors - Dentist Song
Bonus fact: Norman Menken, Alan's dad, was a dentist.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tongue Piercing Steers Wheelchair

While scrolling along my Facebook stream I came across this photo. At  first glance, I assumed it was the latest teen rage: Punk My Mouth. I almost skipped right along without giving it another thought.

Then I saw the headline, the words that stopped me. Tongue Piercing Steers Wheelchair. 


I clicked through and read about an amazing breakthrough for those who need it.

Next I went Googling. I wanted to know more. Why a tongue ring? Because "the tongue doesn't tire easily and is usually not affected by a spinal cord injury because its connected to the brain through the cranial nerve."

The tongue doesn't easily tire.

Countless times in my life, my tongue has gotten me in trouble, made me a fool, embarrassed me and spewed venom. My tongue also spoke words of affirmation, made people laugh, calmed a crying baby and sometimes entertained even me.

To learn what scientists can now train and equip the tongue to achieve apart from words sheds a whole new light on this small flap in our bodies. May we guard our tongues well, for lots of reasons.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Words We Underline

Once in awhile, when it's time for a new read, I close my eyes and pick a title from one of my many stacks of books. Noting The Ice Chorus was an Advance Reading Copy, I knew I'd snagged it at a booksellers convention somewhere along the line. The release date on the cover announced  "February 2005". This should give you some idea about the organization of my "stacks."

The opening line in The Ice Chorus (wonderful book trailer here), a novel set in Ireland, set a sensuous tone. "An ocean-hued piece of silk rests over her hand like a landed butterfly." I use the word sensuous in its broadest and most lovely form, which is, according to,  something perceived by or affecting the senses. Although I'm not quite half-way through yet, the lushness of the writing continues in wonderful ways. Sarah Stonich, the author, renders visual and emotional details, helps us see through the lens of a camera, witness the fluidity of movement in an artist's brush strokes, and feel the power of human touch, no matter how faint. Publisher's Weekly said about the book, "Midlife renewal and the power of art to transform life are celebrated in this bittersweet tale." 

Then I came to a line that caused me to get up out of my chair and grab a pen. A line on page 122 of my ARC, one I just had to underline, then star in the margin, then tell you about .

"Of all the stories she's ever been told, watched on screen, or endeavored to make herself, she understands that only those that unfold naturally endure."

It is a line that could have changed by the final edition. No matter to me. This is the copy I own, and even though I wasn't sure why, the power of  that line grabbed me.

I don't have a library card; we don't live in anyone's district. I buy books. Lots of them. Most read "keeper books" on my shelves are marked up in this way. Underlines, stars, exclamation points, an occasional "OH!" ... If, shortly into the pages, I've already noted several lines, I begin making a list of said page numbers in the front of the book. That way I can just flip from one to the next when I want to savor them.

I feel pretty certain that the novel on my shelves containing the most notations is A River Runs Through It. It's a shorter story filled with lines that caused me to stay with them, return often, even during that first read. They captured me, ensnared me, owned me. I'd read a paragraph, a page, then have to go back and read those lines again. How does an author do that to me?

The first time I received reader mail from someone I didn't know who shared she'd underlined many lines in my books, I wept. I have no idea which lines she referred to. It's hard to imagine any that worthy. I'm not a "literary" author. I can only attribute such a remarkable event to the power of the reader's spirit bringing to light that which needs to be noticed.

The only thing I know for sure is that if I ever try to write those types of lines, they suck. Pure and simple. Perhaps that's why the above quote from The Ice Chorus resonates. Only that which unfolds naturally endures. Amen.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tricky Truths

"A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." -- Max Planck

My dear friend Donna posted this quote on her Facebook page yesterday. First I laughed. Then the too-often dark sorrow of that sad truth set in.

In reality, Planck, most famous for his work on the quantum theory, could have been talking about the publishing industry too. Historically, it is not uncommon for an author’s work to be seriously undervalued, or even noticed, for a generation or three.

  • Why is that? 
  • Does it have anything to do with quantum physics? 
  • What makes someone’s words more potent when they can no longer generate new ones? 
  • Will my books be more popular when everyone reading this, including the one writing it, is dead? 

Gheesh. Happy Fat Tuesday, Charlene!

Just when this dreary spiral of thoughts was about to sink my usual optimism, I Googled Mr. Planck and found an entire page of his Brainy Quotes. When I got to the following, I cheered. 
Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind [and here Charlene adds, or WRITING] realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science [keyboards] are written the words: 'Ye must have faith.'

Sign made. Mood bolstered. Writing. I'm ALIVE, and these here blog words LIVE! All I can really control is the moment. I'll be dead a long time, so whatever with thoughts of immortal famousness.

HAPPY FAT TUESDAY everyone, although I will also welcome what is hopefully a skinnier Thursday.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Happy Presidents Day

While out to breakfast with a friend this morning, our waiter bid us a cheery, "Happy Presidents Day!"

My knee-jerk reaction was to respond with a cheery "Same to you!"

After he walked away, I shrugged my shoulders and  said to my friend, "What does that really mean? How would we specifically celebrate and be happy today about this great event? I don't recall anyone wishing me a 'happy' about this holiday before, do you?" She did not.

I mean, should we rally around the American flag and cheer because we're a country of presidents instead of dictators? That seems like a good enough reason for a happy moment, I suppose. Sadly, though, to be a president these days--to EVER have been one--puts you in the center of controversy and scandal. Our new motto: How can we destroy any last scrap of goodness about your reputation?" At least it sometimes seems that way. Perhaps the kind thing to do today would be to lay off the attacks.

I remember when they combined George and Abe's birthdays (well, sort of) in order to keep it simple and coordinate the holiday, which somehow has, in some states, morphed into celebrating all presidents. But by doing so, they've created a bit of a confusion, I think. Should I sing to both of them? A few rounds of For He's a Jolly Good Fellow each? Or, light a candle for each president throughout history?

After a quick Googling adventure about ways one might celebrate, it looks like today's a day for education about our presidents and their achievements, even though most schools are out. Go figure. Still, if you're looking for some presidential coloring pages and worksheets, here you go.

eHow has a few ideas too. Maybe you can read the Declaration of Independence while eating a cherry pie! Or read all of the president's inaugural addresses, which might be kind of interesting.

However you choose to celebrate, enjoy. If you think of something creative, let me know. I'll put your ideas on the calendar for next year.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Word I Cannot Tame

My entire life, I cannot remember how to spell the word desperation. In fact, within the last five minutes, I spelled it incorrectly elsewhere, which triggered me to blog about it. Perhaps with some concentrated effort, I can correct this problem with my memory chip.

ADMISSION: My first attempt to use the word desperation in this blog post, I spelled it incorrectly too--and always incorrectly the same way. I have no idea what this means, but I'm thinking something!

Okay, I took a short pause after that last paragraph to look up the meaning of the word, to further explain how desperate [Keep typing it, Charlene, for that repetitive learning curve] I am to get it right. I had no idea a synonym for the word desperate is despair.

Great, so now I've learned I don't even use the word correctly! WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN? I often feel desperate, but almost never, ever, never despairing, which feels like a totally different thing to me.

For instance, if I'm desperate (GADS! I just had to correct that spelling--and I am not making that up!) to get somewhere on time, I don't feel despairing. Just acutely concerned, clinging by my fingernails, plowing full bore. Know what I mean? That doesn't feel like despair to me, which I thought meant hopeless, as in facing the reality that whatever you're trying to accomplish is not going to happen. There is no longer hope. Not desperate [OMY, Charlene! Not another correction!], which I thought meant frenzied, back-against-the-wall, but still hopeful, still possible, likely achievable through a frenzied attack.

Anyone else like me have this wrong in their heads?

But now the worst part is this: since learning I not only spell incorrectly, but don't know jack, I now DO feel on the very verge of despair. Will I always be this lacking???

Stupid words.

For your inquiring minds, here is the way I always spell desperation (or desperate) before I am corrected. Desparation. Anyone else? ANYONE?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A brilliant Top 10: Autism & Seniors

I had breakfast this morning with writer, blogger and author  Lynn Hudoba. It's the first time we've met. I discovered Lynn's magnificent Voice several months ago when I read one of her brilliant columns in a daily Patch email for my local area. I loved the piece so much, I left a comment. Several months later, I caught her Voice again. This time, I didn't leave a comment, I tracked her down. I wanted to do everything I could to encourage the fresh Voice that really got my attention.

Lynn has a unique and captivating humor to her writing, even though she's talking about a very serious topic. (Words that make a difference!) Her daughter Audrey is autistic.  Whether you're dealing with a child with special needs, or any issue in your life, who doesn't need to laugh? Although autism isn't close to my personal realm of experience, her Voice and wisdom speak well beyond her topic.

While we were eating and chatting (and changing tables FIVE TIMES in Panera Bread--and I am not making that up--because no matter where we moved, the sun was in one of our eyes), I caught several relatable similarities in stories about her daughter, and stories about little old me. When I mentioned that, she said she'd already blogged a Top Ten list on the relationship between children with autism and senior citizens. As she mentioned a few particulars, I laughed out loud. I think when you read her list, you will too.

I came home happier for having met her. I wish her the best. When someone writes funny words that matter, it's good for all of us.

Lynn's has a Kindle book available. Check it out

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Words That Sell

During the Superbowl, each time they cut to a commercial, a hush fell over our room full of guests. We couldn't wait to see what clever words, images and pitch stories reeled us in or left us cold. (Also, we had a pool for things like first commercial after first interception. Our motto: With money on the line, we pay attention.)

Sometimes the commercials that most kept our focus didn't have much to do with the product. A good story sells. (?) Other times, the product was obvious, but the commercial dudded out. Nonetheless, we tuned in, proving that whatever advertisers paid for the slots, they likely got their money's worth, at least in attentiveness.

I occasionally watch QVC or HSN, just to marvel at the sustained energy of a good pitch person. It's crazy how lathered up they can get the viewer (okay, me) over the most common thing, like the way a seam is sewn into a blouse. A few times a year, due to their convincing bouts of show-and-tell, not to mention the ticking clock and rapidly shrinking inventory on this must-have product (We only have 500 left, folks!), I order something.

When I stroll through the grocery store, I find the word "NEW" splashed across products in nearly every aisle. I wonder how long they pitch us with that ploy? Until their next NEW version evolves? Still, I sometimes succumb to the NEW version and give it a try.

In the end (no pun intended, maybe), sometimes products live up to their billing. Other times, not so much. But today, I'm here to tell you that some pitch words related to products are spot on. "Freshens Better Than Bathroom Tissue alone." I make no money on this statement. I'm just saying ... :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lasting Words of Love

My friend Terri sent a beautiful email today, Valentine's Day. In it, she spoke of her late husband, musician Thomas Chapin. She included a few memories and a link to a very special Valentine gift she received from Thomas, long after he was gone from this earth. It's a remarkable story of tenderness and the surprise of Lasting Words, first spoken, then recorded, now written about. Enjoy. Thank you, Terri. Thank you.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Misreads, Wrong Perceptions

I just read a lovely piece in Shelf Awareness about columnist and author Jeffrey Zaslow, who recently passed away in an automobile accident. Soon after notification of his death, I'd noticed the Twitter stream fill with kind words and expressions about how much his voice would be missed.

When I got to the second from the last paragraph in the article, there appeared a link referring to his expensive obituary in the New York Times. I clicked, read, felt the celebration of his life and the sorrow of his loss, added a couple of his titles to my to-be-read book list. It was clear that his shining words, which often focused on people searching for meaning in their lives, were worthy reads.

By the time I finished the article, and the info at each link, including the obituary--each affirming the power and effect of Mr. Zaslow's printed words, left behind as a testimony to his heart and talent--I realized my feathers were good and ruffled. Why would someone writing such a lovely tributary piece have the bad taste to mention the expense of an obituary! I looked again at the obit link, just to purse my lips, shake my head.

And there is was. The word wasn't EXPENSIVE, it was EXTENSIVE.

The power of words and meaning. A good reminder that all words, whether spoken, read or written, should be carefully considered.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lasting Words that Matter

Words have the power to hurt or heal. Lift or sink. How do we get these wise words to go viral?! I know the video is somewhere on the Internet, but for now, just read the words. And pass them on.

On Whitney Houston

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The day I decided to launch this blog

I've been noodling around the Internet, "checking in" with my Facebook and Twitter friends, curious how long it's been since I posted a Traveling Laugh. Later today, I'm planning to begin work on a  TwinkleGram.

Is there no END to your social media blathering, Charlene?!

Yet, while flicking from one set of hosted words to the next, a thought niggles. Sometimes my brain ignites a MUST-SHARE! idea, question, quote or curiosity that does not quite "fit" any of my aforementioned stay-in-touch outlets, not even the books I write.

As I type this Words to Help You Twinkle blog intro, of sorts, I am reminding myself that I do not have time to start something new. Hel-LO, Charlene! Your estrogen powers are waning in this twilight season of your life. Nonetheless, here I happily go anyway, Pandora cranking in the background, launching this new endeavor. I can't stop thinking about WORDS. Words that make me twinkle with every layer of  definition.

Case in point. Earlier today I was reading a recent copy of Shelf Awareness. In it, I found an article called Wi7, which stands for Winter Institute 7: Social Media. In the second paragraph, I read about author John Green who wrote a book called The Fault in our Stars. Seems his book has been a  bestseller. My blinking (not quite twinkling) rapid-fire thoughts went something like this: Never heard of the guy. Never heard of the book. Why can't I keep up? How did I not notice a title with the word star in it? What is the book about anyway? I'll look it up later. And ... I'm on to the next paragraph, which is a recap about a guy named Dan Cullen who cites statistics from PEW Research. HAHAHAHA! PEW Research. As in P.U. pew-ey! As in ... that's juvenile, Charlene. You're 66. Snap out of it. Then I read where Cullen says that my demographic, whom he refers to as "wired seniors," is the fastest growing segment using social media. Wired senior, huh? As much social networking as I do, my nickname should be The Electrified Geezerette.

I finish reading that article and move on to the picture below it. I love pictures. The cutline explains who the dudes are, and it happens again! I learn of another book title which I've never heard of. Film School: The True Story of a Midwestern Family Man Who Went to the World's Most Famous Film School, Fell Flat on His Face, Had a Stroke, and Sold a Television Series to CBS, by Steve Boman. How much do I love THAT title? Lots. So I try to Tweet it, but it's too long. Even, TweetDeck's answer to Tweets longer than 140 characters, has a problem sending it. [Sidenote: While nabbing the link for TweetDeck, my home computer Tweeting choice, I learned TweetDeck is aimed at "power users". STAND BACK!]

If only you had your own blog, Charlene, you could talk about that book title there!

Next thing I know, I'm playing with Blogger templates and ... Here you go. Words to Help You Twinkle, blog post number one.

--I did look up this John Green chap. His interview (wait till you see who's conducting it!) on B&N made me laugh out loud.  I've now added The Fault of Stars to my reading list. Curious words beget searched words, beget another book on the pile. Amen.

--The PEW Research Center isn't funny. It's smart. I checked. You might wanna too.