Showing posts with label Inspiration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Inspiration. Show all posts

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Writer Unplugged


Antarctic Peninsula

Earlier this week we returned from our 23-day journey in and around Antarctica. During that time, I had no access to electronic news feeds. I missed the Super Bowl – although I did hear the score the next day. I missed five shootings in or around schools: Lincoln High School in Philadelphia (1/31), an “unintentional” shooting of two in Sal Castro Middle School in LA (2/1), Oxon Hill High School, Oxon Hill, MD (2/5), the parking lot of Pearl-Cohn High School, Nashville, TN (2/9), and mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, FL (2/14). I missed (I think) Congress passing a budget. I returned to find Dreamers are still caught in a nightmare and the Olympics in full swing.

Sheep with Magellanic Penguins on Falkland Islands
Each day, the ship I was on printed a multi-page news summary. It covered the world. Cricket, Tennis, Golf, and English Premier League Football each had more lines of coverage than the two or three allocated daily to US news, which was included under the subhead “The Americas” (lumping our bit of drama with that from the rest of North, Central, and South America).

Striated Caracara - Falkland Islands
While all those events (and much, much more) transpired, I spent oodles of hours on deck watching pelagic birds, cloud patterns, the work of wind on the water. During our numerous landings, we visited new places (Argentina, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island, the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands), saw thousands of birds and unique landscapes.

The only time I consciously spent in writerly activities was during one day at sea. The birds had mostly left us, and it rained or drizzled all day. I stayed in my cabin and wrote the drafts of two blogs related to the April 3 release of Empty Promises. I suppose I should also count time I spent talking with fellow passengers about my writing. That should probably be counted as sales activity.

young Black-browed Albatross - Falkland Islands
Life itself is grist for the writer’s mill, and this was an experience unlike any other I have had. The problem is, if you tried to pin me down about what I learned or how I might incorporate something into my writing, I’ll have to admit that I have no clue. Maybe an expression I heard will pop up in a character’s dialogue. Perhaps I’ll describe how one passenger walked using a stabilizing boot on one foot—the way she shifted her body to compensate for the additional weight and bulk, or how she had to navigate the stairways in rolling seas. Wait! Maybe I’ll have a passenger use a fake boot to hoodwink an airport worker into moving her to the head of the customs line.

Or perhaps a character will incorporate some trait I saw a passenger exhibit: how they approached eating each meal, a sideways shift of his eyes when he didn’t agree with a statement but chose not to engage in argument, a chuckle that turned into a giggle that turned into a knee-slapping roar.

Chinstrap Penguin in the Southern Ocean
I’m sure some writers would have recorded everything in a notebook so they could tap those recollections as needed. I am not that kind of writer. I have no patience for that kind of recording. For some time I kept a diary—sort of. A typical entry might read.

Weather good. Beat Olympia 3-2. (Only by the date could I know if this was soccer or baseball!)

King Penguin colony on South Georgia Island
I’d rather experience something than worry about trying to record it. I only take pictures as something of an after-thought. I want to experience the scenery before recording it. I want to watch the bird, how it uses lift from the waves to pop high into the air, how it uses its tail as a braking device, how it hops on the ground kicking over leaves. Oh yes, I like taking bird photographs, but sometimes I forget in the joy of watching them.

Magellanic Penguin
"If I turn my back on you will you stop squeaking?
The trip reminded me how much I enjoy being outdoors and how little I enjoy talking back to politicians on the television when they lie or avoid tackling hard topics. I missed the part of social media that keeps me in touch with friends and acquaintances; I did not miss the part of social media railing against others (regardless of whether I agreed or disagreed with their position).

I could choose to remain a Writer Unplugged. In some ways it would be easier to ignore all that’s wrong with the world and go my merry way without a care. Except, I prefer making decisions based on facts rather than beliefs, and by ignoring injustice, I’d lose the part of my core being that cares about the plight of others.

Cape Petrel in Southern Ocean
So, I shall return to being a Plugged-In Writer but commit to controlling how I gather news and interact with others about interpreting it. I shall not allow it to regain control of my time or my energy.

Oh, and so I don’t leave you with any false impressions, let me confess: I did manage to take 2,740 non-blurry pictures during the trip. How about you—what’s your biggest take-away from your latest trip or vacation?

This blog was originally posted on Writers Who Kill (2/25/18).



P.S.  I am posting photos and commentary of this trip on Facebook, as though you were traveling with me with a 20-day delay. You can follow me on Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/james.m.jackson.author Be sure to check the Album as well as the daily posts. ~ Jim

Monday, January 15, 2018

Bucket Lists

In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar did away with a flawed lunar-based calendar and introduced the Julian calendar, based (as the Egyptians had been doing for a very long time) on a solar year. He didn’t get it quite right, which required the change over 1,600 years later to our current Gregorian calendar. All of which is to say that we should blame Caesar for having to start anew during the days of shortest daylight hours instead of (say) near the vernal equinox.

I didn’t find anything that linked Caesar to the common practice of setting (and mostly ignoring) New Year’s Resolutions. For a time, I tried to be a maverick and set goals commencing on my birthday. That didn’t seem to work any better, and since the IRS insists that I use a calendar-year basis for my personal and business taxes, I’ve reverted to calendar-year based goals. And lists.

I’ve mentioned before that I am a person who keeps lists. Lots of lists, but fewer than there used to be. I still maintain my books read (80 for 2017). It has the practical purpose of answering the question: did I already read this? I also maintain a lifetime bird list, but I’ve discarded the practice of keeping track of the number seen each year, and in each state, and on my property, and . . . I no longer care.

One list I continue to maintain has nothing to do with calendar years; it’s a bucket list. In case you are not familiar with the term, it means a list of things you want to do or experience before you die (or “kick the bucket”).

My bucket list has changed over the years. Some things have come off because I completed them. My trip to Alaska in 2008 completed my objective to visit all 50 states. And in 2014 when we visited Newfoundland/Labrador, I finished off my Canadian providences list. (I still hope to visit all the Canadian territories, and that remains on my bucket list.)

I consider my list as a way to remind me of some of my inspirational goals, but I don’t allow it to exert pressure on me. (You’re past Social Security eligibility age and you still haven’t done that? Shame, Jim!) Over the years, I removed some items from the list because they are no longer possible to do, at least in the way first intended. I had to scratch “Hike the Appalachian Trail” when my shoulders deteriorated to the point it was too painful to carry a heavy pack for a full day, let alone three months.

I’ve flown in a hot air balloon and helicopter, but still want to fly in a glider plane during hawk migration. I’ve been to the Arctic, but not to Antarctica—that is about to be rectified.

We’ve booked passage on a birding tour that will take us to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island, and the Antarctica peninsula. We leave at the end of January and will be gone for three-plus weeks. I can’t wait to experience the remote habitats, see birds I have only visited in zoos, and experience—well, who knows exactly what I’ll experience? That’s why I’m going.

What’s on your bucket list and what do you hope to scratch off this year? (Oh, oh – there’s that calendar year thing raising its head again!)

~ Jim

Originally published on Writers Who Kill Blog 1/14/18

Monday, July 31, 2017

Chihuly Garden and Glass


The last morning we were in Seattle as part of a 19-day excursion with our youngest granddaughter, we took in the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibition. It’s part of the Seattle Center, whose best-known attraction is the Space Needle. A series of five short films are part of the exhibit. They feature Dale Chihuly talking about his approach to some of his exhibitions. Pictures in this blog come from the Seattle exhibit.


Having visited some of his other exhibits, I would have guessed that he was a deep planner, with each piece’s placement well-considered before the glass-blowing began, and then placed in its pre-determined spot. Turns out he’s more of a seat-of-the-pants kind of guy.

Oh sure, he sketches out big pieces, but he’s not a slave to the design. For example, while developing one exhibit, he took great delight in tossing his glass creations into a river to see how they would float together, what patterns they would make, how they would flow, and so on. Kids collected them and stuck them in a large rowboat. Chihuly was so struck by the arrangement the kids made, he included the same concept in several subsequent exhibits, including the one in Seattle.







When Chihuly creates his very large chandeliers, he and his team produce the component parts, but when it comes to constructing each chandelier, serendipity plays a huge part. One film shows the team putting together a new chandelier for an installation. Chihuly stood below and periodically held up a piece and said, “Make sure to include this somewhere. I like this piece.” Later, a small hole in the pattern developed that he commented on several times, making sure they knew it was there and kept it. “After all, nature does the same thing.”







It was clear he enjoyed himself throughout the whole process. When it comes to his art, he has kept the freedom of a child: willing to experiment, follow a wild idea, challenge himself and his partners.

Exiting the exhibit, I was looking forward to the next chance I had to write. Thanks, Dale.

This blog originally appeared 30 July 2017 on Writers Who Kill.