Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Adjust the Volume in Your Mind

Imagination is an enriching, harmonious soundtrack playing in one's mind; worry is distracting, cacophonous background noise interrupting the mind. As you turn up the volume on imagination with the help of inspiring voices--of friends and mentors, authors, artists, Nature--who help you dance through life, you will simultaneously turn down the noise that paralyzes you.

The key to volume control is not just a good sound system, but a strong listening system, powered by intention. If you think of your life as a movie, you will intentionally choose a soundtrack to enrich the daily flashing images that constitute your life. Some moments require sounds of Nature, others require the harmony of artistic voices, and still other scenes beg for the sounds of silence. How you listen to those chosen sounds will determine how they affect your mood as the story pulls you along.

Right now, as I type, I hear harmony in the steady clicking of my keyboard, the birds twittering outside the open screen door, the scratching of my little dog, asking me to let him in ("Just a minute!" I call now, as a still smooth bridge section of my soundtrack)....

Suddenly, worry about the editing job I'm behind on blasts a jarring note into my head as I think about finishing this blog post, and forget about enjoying the process.

I'm tuning it out, adding this paragraph instead. And as I type these words, I hear my magical wind chimes start ringing outside, coincidentally, in a sudden breeze that has crept into the room and up my back. Sounds of imagination become multisensory....

I shiver, smile to myself now, and type:
End of post.
Off to dance now...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Prompted by a Picture from Facebook

I saw this incredible photo of a sculpture on Facebook (thanks to Glenda!), and my mind went into action, creating tag lines:

Nothing's set in stone--break free!

We are never stuck if we just step forward.

Emotional paralysis comes from letting others sculpt your identity.

Don't let the medium into which you were born define the artistry you create of your life.

The most memorable moments in life occur when we leap beyond the walls that form our illusory boundaries.

I think I can, and I do! (Okay, it's kind of borrowed from a little engine...)

What would YOU write to go with this inspiring picture?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Finding Common Ground

A dear friend of mine, Bob Nelson, is a motivational speaker and author, and in his presentations of his recent book, Ubuntu (, he opens with an ice-breaker game that forces participants to find one thing in common with every person they meet during the session. That simple, yet brilliant, getting-to-know-you game got me thinking....

Shouldn't we all try to find at least one thing in common with EVERY person we meet, EVERY day? Wouldn't life improve on earth if all people practiced looking for commonalities with strangers, rather than avoiding getting know others based on assumptions about NOT having anything in common with them?

Many social enrichment programs today claim to foster togetherness and unity, when, in fact, they foster the opposite by stressing the very concepts that divide people from each other. Ironically using slogans like "teach tolerance," "celebrate differences," and "embrace diversity," such programs focus on how we treat strangers, rather than on how we find friends among former strangers.

A shift in mindset, focusing on commonalities, would be best represented by new slogans, such as: "teach acceptance," "celebrate commonalities," and "embrace unity." Focusing on that which unites us is the only way to eradicate xenophobia and break barriers. The current approach in many social programs does nothing to break down the walls between cultures and countries, neighborhoods and nations; rather, we find ourselves merely painting those walls, to disguise their function by painting them with brightly colored slogans, as though they were art.

"Find one thing you have in common with a stranger." Powerful, memorable, life-changing words.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sparked by FIREGIRL...

In writing the following review of one of my new favorite children’s books, I learned a painful lesson about a problem in one of my own book projects—a problem I did not see clearly until now. More on that later....

Here’s the review: Firegirl, by Tony Abbott , is a middle-grade novel that I want every one of my students to read—even the ones older than 13. The first word that comes to my mind to describe this book is HONEST. The second is REALISTIC. The narrator is a 7th grade boy who crosses the invisible boundary created by his fearfully judgmental classmates between themselves and the new girl--a horribly disfigured, lonely burn victim. He first communicates with her not out of courage, but out of obligation; he then befriends her not out of heroic compassion, but out of poignant empathy.

Tom is not an author’s mouthpiece, a puppet-like hero character who acts extraordinarily mature or philosophical to show other characters, as well as readers, how to act toward people who are different and suffering because of their differences. No, Tom is an ordinary, awkward, insecure, and sincere middle-school boy, which is why his reluctant boundary crossing makes him a realistic hero in the end. He admits to being afraid of his burned friend, and to feeling scared about speaking up for her. His fear is how readers connect to him, and his admirable introspective ability evolves naturally from his experience, rather than appearing as a gift with which the author has blessed him, conveniently, to help teach a lesson. This book offers, in addition to a heart-warming story, a writing lesson in characterization—a lesson I have learned.

The main character in my middle-grade novel has been called “too good” and “too wise” by some of the fellow authors who have critiqued my novel-in-progress. Though my protagonist’s hardships helped him develop his introspective quality, he communicates his acquired wisdom far too well, I realize, to be believable. He needs to be more awkward, less confident, more himself, less me. Even if my story has a fantastical bent, my character will garner more love if he is more like my readers. An “Aha!” moment…


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Prompted by a Clever Email...

"To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target."

A friend of mine just emailed me a list of lines like that one, lines called "paraprosdokian," which make the reader back up and reread, smiling with a new understanding. One of the best emails I've received in years! I plan to use many of the lines as writing prompts for my students, but first I will use the one above as a prompt for my own writing, here....

What a circular feat of marksmanship, when you can declare yourself a bulls-eye no matter where your mark lands! This reminds me of people I've met who need to win at everything (or at least to appear successful), so they reinvent the goals as they pursue them, so that they can always end with the convincing assertion, "That's exactly what I meant to do/say/prove," no matter what happens. This is like the author whose book gets banned for actually inciting drug use among teen readers, but rather than express remorse or outrage, the author nods and says, "It's a sad consequence, but that's why I had to write those passages--to bring forward those predisposed to drug abuse, so that they could be treated and helped." Random consequences that seem to "miss the mark" thus disappear when the end is not predetermined. It's like the justification, "Obviously, this just wasn't meant to be then," when used as a cover up for feelings of inadequacy. That's not to say that I don't think "things happen for a reason," or some occurrences are "meant to be." I do. I just DON'T think they serve as rationalizations for missing one's mark; I thing that part of pursuing one's goals with integrity and tenacity is the equal ability of admitting one's inadequate results, with the aim of finding a more effective manner to pursue similar goals in the future.

Similarly, some take credit where none is due, claiming that they intentionally "hit the mark" when they did so accidentally. But to save face, they move their target, so to speak. One of my poems was once featured in a poetry analysis column in The Writer, and the columnist praised my poem for its Shakespearian double entendres in the final line--two of them. I knowingly created ONE of those double meanings, and only realized the second one when she pointed it out. I could have claimed, "Of course, that's exactly why I chose that word," but I'd be lying. (To this day, I tell that story to my students when pointing out some of their unintentional, serendipitously perfect word choices, making them laugh over their own subconscious, natural brilliance!)

The idea of changing the target as our shot lands also reminds me of using situational ethics--changing the rules to fit a context and serve one's ego. For instance, a person justifies accepting an illegally burned film on DVD, saying, "I'm only showing it to my friends because they'll get a thrill out of seeing the film before everyone else. It's not like I'm charging admission and making money off the filmmaker's work. THAT would be stealing, but this isn't." Translation: "My friends will think I'm cool for giving them a sneak preview, AND for saving them money." Never mind the fact, when pointed out to the DVD "owner," that the friends would have been paying patrons of the film if they had to wait to see it in a theater! That's not stealing? Change the definition, change the legitimacy. Aim for a fixed target and you could end up on the outer rim, or worse, on the dirt beside the target. But move the target to meet the flying arrow, and you're sure to seem like a winner.

That paraprosdokian pondering sheds light on the irony of self-righteousness in a world governed by relativity. We cannot "miss our marks" in the absence of clearly defined, stationary targets/goals/values. But is hitting the mark really as important as the manner in which we aim? And is missing what we aimed for actually something to be ashamed of, or an opportunity for continued growth?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Moving Pictures

Writing that comes alive in a reader's mind uses what I call the D.A.D. Technique(Description, Action, and Dialogue) to connect the movie playing in the writer's imagination to the blank screen in the reader's head. The vivid verbal movie is in "HD" and "3D" when the writer employs multisensory imagery and realistic dialogue, along with revealing close ups on characters, to transfer the footage to the reader. Writing that uses only dialogue conveys a mere audio clip, with a blank picture. Writing that uses only visual description without enough action serves as a mere slide show; whereas action scenes, with little description and no dialogue, portray nothing more than a silent movie in the reader's cerebral screen.

Memorable words comprise experiences, first conceived in a writer's mind, and then translated into words that SHOW, not merely tell about the scene. If we writers cannot get a clear picture of a scene in our own heads, we are not yet ready to transfer that scene to paper, and then to a reader's mind. Writing to communicate word pictures requires time to imagine and time to craft a preview version, time to share the preview, and time to revise it before the debut of the fully developed feature film of words.

As books move more and more to screens over pages, we writers need to keep in mind the importance of creating memorable images to compete with our sister industry, that of Film.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Prompted by Poetry...

Miller’s Faithful Ball-Fetcher
(a dog’s-eye view response to Miller Williams’s poem “Listen")
By Susan L. Lipson (4/11)

Where’d it go? Where’d it go?
He threw the white ball, I saw it!
So where’d it go?
No smell to follow?
Maybe the chilling wind grabbed the scent from me?
My nose feels so cold, freezing cold,
Colder than my paws, now sinking into shifting, wet ground—
What humans call “snow,” I think.
Maybe the ball sunk, too?
“I’ll find it, Master!” I bark.
He barks back my name, “Fritz,” and “Come!”
I ignore him and keep searching,
Fearing that he’ll lose faith in me,
The Best Ball Fetcher, his Good Dog!
I’ll make a bigger loop.
Sniff, sniff, sniff…no luck.
He barks again,
And I bark back, “No, I didn’t find it yet!
But I will! I’m trying! I’ll bring it back to you!”
Round and round and round I run,
Till my paws feel numb.
I hang my head.
Failure. Bad Dog.
I shake off the dampness
And trudge toward him,
My tail between my legs.

Why does he pet me now?
He can’t possibly be proud!
So why?
He won’t stop petting me,
Softly speaking my name,
Petting and petting me
With his warm hands,
Till we both feel warm again.


By Miller Williams

I threw a snowball across the backyard.
My dog ran after it to bring it back.
It broke as it fell, scattering snow over snow.
She stood confused, seeing and smelling nothing.
She searched in widening circles until I called her.

She looked at me and said as clearly in silence
as if she had spoken,
I know it's here, I'll find it,
went back to the center and started the circles again.

I called her two more times before she came
slowly, stopping once to look back.

That was this morning. I'm sure that she's forgotten.
I've had some trouble putting it out of my mind.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Game of Things

My friends brought over a fun word game the other night: The Game of Things. One person picks a category card that describes "Things that...," and everyone writes her/his example to fit that category on individual slips of paper. The player who chose the card collects all of the slips and reads them aloud. Then the players guess, one by one, who wrote which example/answer, pondering and usually laughing over the appropriateness of each response.

One of the players at our table picked a category card that read something like, "Things that Will Keep You from Getting to Heaven." My smart friend Tina's response will stay with me for a long time: "A lack of good direction." Literally and figuratively, one needs good direction to get to Heaven, yes! That answer won my prize for memorable words--a mention in my blog! Woo hoo!

How would YOU answer this category with a double entendre: "Things that Move"? Or how about "Things that Slow People Down"?

Can you make up your own category that might lend itself to a profound double meaning? Try it; it's fun!

P.S. My answers to the above two proposed categories: "letters being typed into words" and "worn-out soles/souls."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Enlightened Eskimos

"Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy." --Eskimo Proverb

I had read this proverb years ago, and then read it again today on a friend's Facebook page. (Who says that Facebook pages have no words of depth, huh?) I find this image of stars as openings in a temporarily black sky-cover so comforting. These words remind us that we cannot know Light except by contrast with Darkness, just as we cannot know Goodness without Badness, or Life without Death to outline it for us. We must therefore embrace, not fear, Night; for the twinkling stars that illuminate our visions could indeed be powered by the still-glowing soul sparks of those we miss during our darkest hours. The lost loved ones are thus never lost, but rather, like night lights to chase away nightmares and bring on sweet dreams. Like peep holes to heaven, the stars seen by wise Eskimos offer an opening to connect us with the universe itself.

I look at the night sky with awe and nostalgia, silently thanking my ancestors, both ancient and contemporary, for reminding me where they are, and where I will meet them someday. I'm hoping to form a brilliant new constellation with my beloved stars then....

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New Vision

By Susan L. Lipson

If hindsight could play leapfrog
with current sight, we’d know
that what we saw as hurtful
was a chance for us to grow;
and what we saw as pain
would look like setting up a stage
for joys we’ll soon experience
once we get past our rage.
If hindsight took the foreground,
would we make the same mistakes?
Would we then notice our blessings,
and develop what it takes
to live, not just survive,
to see the lessons in each day,
to feel our will at work with God’s,
and our power as we pray?
If hindsight could play leapfrog
with current sight, we’d know
that faith expressed through ACTIONS
is the leap that helps us grow.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Was Einstein Right About Imagination Being More Important than Knowledge?

To analyze Einstein’s assertion that “imagination is more important than knowledge” requires definitions of “knowledge,” “imagination,” and “important.” Knowledge is an attribute gained by study, synthesis, and application of information and materials already in existence. Imagination is an innate ability exercised by creative impulses that bring new information and materials into existence. Knowledge requires information; imagination inspires information. The depth of our knowledge depends upon the strength of our commitment to study, and upon our memory. The depth of our imagination depends upon the strength of our creative impulses and our willingness to act upon our inspirations. Anyone with a functioning brain can develop knowledge, but not anyone can develop an imagination.
Imagination leads to evolution, a forward movement like swimming to a new shore, while knowledge leads to enrichment, which is less like swimming and more like treading water. For example, Einstein, dissatisfied with the body of knowledge available to him in his search for answers to perplexing problems of the universe, instead created entirely new theories within his own mind, countering established information, and leading to an evolution in physics itself. Since his creation of the theory of relativity, scientists have expanded upon the knowledge he created from his imagination, enriching his theories. Consider also the ancient invention of aspirin as a pain reliever and fever reducer, an invention that evolved from a scientist’s imagination (and historians still debate the identity of exactly which scientist invented aspirin). When the use of aspirin eventually revealed a side effect, blood-thinning, modern scientists applied their knowledge of aspirin’s effects to the modern-day prescription of aspirin in smaller doses for maintaining healthy blood flow. Invention obviously precedes new knowledge, but the new knowledge may then enrich our lives even more than someone originally imagined. Thus, while knowledge keeps us afloat and strengthens us, only imagination truly propels us forward.
If we define importance as “the potential for affecting the world,” then yes, imagination is more important than knowledge, as Einstein declared. If, however, we define importance as “value for the sake of personal growth,” then a balance of knowledge and imagination is more important than an abundance of only one. The pursuit of knowledge connects us with our predecessors by honoring their imaginations, whereas the exercise of imagination connects us with future generations who will build upon the knowledge we have established. The weighing of imagination against knowledge is thus affected by…relativity!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Ignoring Signs

Signs on the highway foretell upcoming construction, accidents, bumps along our way. They glare in yellow or red, catching our eyes and redirecting us, sometimes in the nick of time for the least aware drivers. Do divine signs--the intangible ones that disguise themselves as coincidences--glare in the same way in our lives, yet without flashing lights or glow-in-the-dark metal? Do we need some special awareness to notice them BEFORE life happens? How do we cultivate the vision we need to perceive such signs and to avoid recognizing them only when it's too late: "Ah, I should have see that coming! All the signs were there!" Furthermore, how do we know that the signs ARE signs, and not just our imaginations colored by hopes or fears?

Lately, I've been wondering whether I've been overlooking signs regarding my writing career. My printed words have garnered surprise praise from unsought sources, while I continue to mail out children's book manuscripts to agents who reject them for lack of their own time or enthusiasm; or agents (TWO) who actually LOSE my submissions, after months in which I imagined them reading and sharing my words with the members of their office, and after ignoring my email inquiries about the status of my submission finally write sheepish replies to admit that they lost my work and apologize--without offering to make it up to me by reading my work as a new, top-priority submission. Did you hear the long sigh that punctuated that run-on sentence? Ah...

Anyway, the unsolicited praise I HAVE received lately concerns writing that I am NOT currently submitting for representation or publication: scripts, songs, and essays. Maybe this weird recurrence of compliments is a sign that I should refocus my attention? Maybe the compliments are gifts of guidance from Beyond, to help me redirect my efforts? Let me explain the possible "signs" I have lately received....

In the last two weeks, my scriptwriting skills have been praised by my daughter's acting coaches and casting directors who, while auditioning her with a script that I wrote for her (an adaptation of one of my unappreciated novels-in-submission!), asked her where she got this "amazing script" and even approached me after the audition to commend my writing skills. My songwriting skills have brought me requests to either sing or grant permission to another singer to sing my original liturgical music in synagogue. And my essay-writing skills have brought me surprising emails from parents of prospective students and other bloggers who have invited me to contribute to THEIR blogs. What does this mean? Should I switch to writing screenplays and songs and essays? Am I overlooking potential success outside of children's book publishing? Or are these peripheral mini-successes, meant to spur me onward and not lost my drive for my goal of publishing another novel for kids?

I even wrote myself a song about this very topic, months ago, but never heeded the advice that sang itself into my ear until I wrote down the lyrics and sang them into my computer's recording device. "Am I manufacturing signs, signs to guide me, since I am lost?... Am I overlooking connections, connections who'll get me further along? Maybe it's a matter of timing, timing that's part of some divine song?"

Signs, or willful imaginings? How do we know? How do we learn to trust ourselves? On the other hand, how do we keep from "poo-pooing" signs that scare us--about our health or the health of others, for example? How I wish the signs would appear in neon lights instead of ghostly flashes of insight! How I wish the "chills of confirmation" that many of us imagine/perceive (?) would instead become physical shaking by Divine "hands"!

I hereby vow to trust myself to see more clearly. But I also plead with the Giver of Signs to be a little more obvious, pretty please? Maybe this blog post is a sign?