Thursday, April 14, 2011

White Picket Fence

So almost 3 weeks later, I finally have my white picket fence story finished. Some day I will link to the published version, but until then you're going to have to trust me.

I do have a funny story that goes with the story though. As is oh-so-typical of me, I found something unusual (odd) after I wrote it. I made up the address and I've never lived in New York City. Since we live in an age where we can look ANYTHING up in an instant, I thought I should Google the address and see what came up. It turns out that it is a real address. And get this - it's a restaurant called "Joe's Place." Geez, I crack myself up.

Jo Taylor

Friday, March 25, 2011

Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction is something I don't do particularly well, so I make myself do it every once in a while to get better at it. As you could probably tell from my blog posts, I am a bit verbose.

Flash Fiction is a short story, a very short story, that fits into less than a thousand words. If you read a garden variety paperback, you could guess that each page is 250 words, so Flash Fiction is usually about four of those pages long. The hard part is making a complete, engaging story fit into that short of a space. Some Flash Fiction is even as short as 50 or 100 words - but I find that to be completely impossible.

Hemingway wrote one of the shortest (and best) stories ever. 6 words.

"For sale. Baby shoes, never worn."

It is a complete story. We can all imagine what it means.

All day, every day, I see or hear or think of something that would make a good story. Since I started writing, it has become the way I think. Maybe I always thought this way and just never identified it as storytelling. As a kid, I spent an inordinate amount of time in my room, by myself, grounded for various and sundry reasons by either of the wicked step monsters, and I had to entertain myself somehow. So, I made stuff up.

I think everyone can do it, it just gets nurtured in some and ignored in others. The talent is in compressing it, molding it, fine tuning it enough so that other people want to hear the story.

Something as simple as "a white picket fence" can set me off into composing a story about the fence. I wish I had more time to think, but for some strange reason, I find that being busy makes me more creative - in a more condensed fashion - than in the past two years. Go figure. Less time - better writing.


I don't recommend it. I think real writers need to do just that - write. But, as I say in my bio, I'm a writer in my unreal life.

In a few days or perhaps a week, I'll post the "white picket fence" story. It should be about 500 to 800 words or so. I just started it last night and I know everything except the ending. I start stories very well and agonize over the ending. I always read the last page of a book before I start reading it and I never knew why. Still don't, but perhaps it has something to do with how I compose a story. One beginning, many possible endings. Maybe I should collaborate with someone who always knows how to end a story, but struggles with the beginning.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Sorry, I digress.

I love things that have symbolism so ingrained, and yet subtly different for everyone. The "white picket fence" topic is one of those, and it will be interesting to hear how others interpret it.


Jo Taylor

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Characteristically Falling Down

I named this blog Characteristically Speaking for a few reasons. The most obvious reason is that I talk a lot and it seems quite characteristic of me to be speaking. The other reason was that most of my writing revolves around character, so I had high hopes of being able to write about character development and other things as I learned them myself. Teaching something is the best way to learn it.

Besides those two things, I found from the very beginning that somehow my character's strongest impact was from their voice, their way of speaking and of telling their story.

But if there is something that is also strongly characteristic of me - it's that I fall down. Right about now if my former medic partner John is reading this, he will have spit beer (or coffee - depending on the time of day) all over the screen as he remembers the numerous times I fell down, literally, on the job. For no reason. I would be standing there, and then I would fall down.

Now this is not a weakness kind of fall, but a fall only the most klutzy among us can master. That would be me.

We were standing in a patient's living room, and I fell down. I wasn't even moving. I still swear it was an earthquake. John just looked down at me and laughed.

Another time, I turned from a patient's bed and a very helpful Volly (volunteer fire) had wrapped the EKG cables behind my legs and I fell forward towards the slightly ajar bedroom door with enough force to cause my left hand to slip off of the door frame into the void, swiftly followed by my right hand pushing the door closed on my left hand hard enough to break my ring finger. The five aghast family members sitting on the sofa watched in silence as I simply elevated my bleeding hand and walked out.

There have been more, but it's probably a blessing they are long forgotten.

However, I did it again the other day.

I was cleaning the shower (and this is PROOF that housework is bad for you) and I was squatting down (jeez, I hate that word -squatting, but that's what I was doing) scrubbing the tile floor with a scrubbie pad. Minding my own business. Trying to clean. That's all.

Suddenly, my feet went out from under me - sideways (think of Bambi on ice and that's pretty close), and I hit the inside of my left knee on the tile so hard that I sucked all the air in the universe into my lungs. The next thing I thought of was how cold the water was going to be if I couldn't get up. What can I say - I'm a survivor.

I love to think of myself as graceful and all that, but it just isn't true. Three weeks later, my knee still hurts. And my walk is less than graceful. Waaa.

Graceful isn't just in the way we move, but in the way we are. Sometimes these blogs are not about the smallness of my world, but really they are about documenting the bigger world and what is going on in it.

Japan has been knocked to it's knees, and her people are showing an incredible amount of grace in the face of immense tragedy and gigantic obstacles. I am sure they will get up, and walk gracefully through to the other side. The other side which we call "normal."

I've been crybabying about my silly sore knee and this last week of watching the news has made me realize that my problems and aches are infinitesimal compared to theirs. My grace, which I want to believe I have at least a small amount of, pales in comparison to theirs. My prayers are for their continued strength, and for me to learn something from them.

We Americans love to characterize ourselves as survivors, fighters, winners (OK, now that word is forever ruined thank you Charlie Sheen). Japan and her people are an example to me of grace. If there were any quality I would want to cultivate, it would be characteristic grace.

Bless you Japan.


Jo Taylor

Monday, March 7, 2011

I Miss . . .

I miss lying on the grass and watching the clouds for hours.

I miss a poet I know only as Jonathan because he doesn't post anymore and I still want to read what he has to say.

I miss my baby's neck - he's 13 now and his neck doesn't smell or feel the same.

I miss being able to eat an entire pizza.

I miss a quiet house. My son did not talk until he was 2 1/2, and since then he has not shut up.

I miss the passion I had for changing the world.

I miss the crunch of snow beneath my feet, but I don't at all miss anything else about it.

I miss my friend Kevin. I still hear his laugh sometimes.

I miss caring for patients who were nice, or funny, or brave.

I miss the excitement of Christmas Eve and pressing my nose against the cold window as I looked for Rudolph.

I miss being fascinated by ants.

I miss sitting on the swings and talking with my friends.

I miss my characters when I finish their stories.

What do you miss?


Jo Taylor

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Being Positive

For most of my life, I've been positive. Positive attitude, positive I could do something (or positive I couldn't), positive that God existed and so did ghosts, even if I nor anyone else ever saw them.

I'm also quite sure (who am I kidding - positive) there is a gene that influences this as I don't even have to make a conscious choice to see the world this way. My early life challenged this mind set over and over, but I always knew I would rise above. Still, sometimes it takes a monumental event to kick it into high gear.

I went to Africa in May of 2000 and it changed my life. I went with my husband and some friends on a two week photo safari to Kenya and Tanzania. I shot 27 rolls of film (for those of you younger that me, film is the stuff pictures used to be printed from - little canisters- 27 of them), got some great pics, great memories, and had two profound realizations:

When we landed on the airstrip at the Serengeti, I walked out of the plane and felt . . . like I was home. I've never had that sensation before or since and I can only explain it on a genetic level . . . home. Nothing - not the plants, the animals, the smells, nor the feel of the air was the same as my physical home, but it was somehow incredibly familiar and comforting.

The other thing about Africa is that the people were happy, content - with NOTHING. They built their roads by hand (seriously by hand - I saw them) and earned maybe 300.00 per year, but they were so surely "in the land" - in the cradle of civilization - and they were happy.

I live in the United States of America. I have a job. I have a roof over my head. I am rich beyond measure compared to most of the world. 

I was truly humbled.

And I was newly positive and happy in a way that has never left me. 

I was so happy in fact that I quit my job (because I was lucky enough to be able to), stayed home with my son (who was then 3) for four years, and then when I was bored I went back to work.

More wonderful material things have come to me since I stopped working FOR them and just worked for the joy of it. Call me silly, but being positive and grateful really are the keys to being happy. Not stuff. Never stuff.

People are a given though - gotta have the peeps.

Being positive is not without its drawbacks. 

I recently began a new job which involves learning lots of new things and managing a staff of . . . some, let's just say some. Anyway, it feels challenging but not overwhelming, and I am positive that I can be good at it within a few months. One of my staff asked me (very nicely) if I had any concept of what was going on . . . did I get it? 

It suddenly occurred to me that I appeared clueless because I was so happily and positively taking on a challenge. My words reassured her that I was not oblivious, but I hope my actions reassure her even more. 

I get it. I really do.

How can anyone be happy and positive if they have any idea of what the reality of the world is these days? The economy, the instability in the Middle East, work pressures to do more with less, violent and strange weather all over the world, the threat of CME's (Coronal Mass Ejections which frankly scare me the most - what if we lose computers???!!! E-gads).

Is anything made better by being negative? No

Is anything made better by being positive? Yes

It seems to me like the most obvious thing in the world, but maybe I'm just lucky.

I have written two novels so far - because I am positive that I can do it. It is such a monumental task that I don't think you can take it on unless you know it can be done. Doing it well and actually getting published is a whole other story, but the fact that I have finished and am currently revising two novels gives me great satisfaction.

I haven't written much about writing here lately, but I think it speaks to motivation of character if you analyze global mind sets like positive vs negative. From which side does your character view the world? Right, left, dexter, sinister, positive, negative - it is a starting point for motivation of action that supersedes all others. Experience and environment can modify a basic tendency, but your character is at his/her core a positive or negative being. 

Which side are you on?


Jo Taylor

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Being in Two Places At Once

Lots of people accept the futility of being in two places at once. I thought of this today as I was working a few hours at one of my jobs and a few hours at the other. It would be much more efficient to be in both places at the same time.


Or not.

One of my favorite books is "The Fabric of the Cosmos" by Brian Greene (whom I would love, love, love to meet someday). It's a book about theoretical physics and how our knowledge of the universe is evolving. Space and time are not (it is theorized) what we thought them to be. One of the most startling ideas is that you could be in two places at once. They've actually proven this part of the theory on the atomic level. How is that not common and awe-inspiring knowledge?

I cannot do any of the ideas justice as far as explaining them. I have to read and re-read them to really get it, and then read it again. But to me, it is completely worth the effort. It is challenging and interesting and satisfies my desire to learn. If you are interested, the book can be found here

String theory and quantum physics are made interesting and accessible by Dr. Greene, and for that I am truly grateful. The idea of multiple, parallel universes is not just an excuse for the odd things that happen in life. At some levels, it makes the odd things make sense.

It also makes me laugh to realize almost everything I've ever thought to be impossible - isn't.

And I think that is a very inspiring idea.


Jo Taylor

Monday, January 24, 2011


Encouragement seems to surround me these days.

At work, those who know I have a new job and am still trying to do the old one too have said, "You can do it." The nurses and docs have said as much about my learning case management, and as for my writing - well, my writing partner has given me renewed enthusiasm for working on Road Clothes even as busy as I am.

For all this I am grateful.

This recognition of encouragement sent my way has made me consider all the people in my life who assist me, often unnoticed or underappreciated. People who do jobs that make my job easier, people who are my friends and family who let me work long hours and talk about my characters ad nauseum, and people who make me laugh (like all these people), are indispensible.  I couldn't do my work, be a somewhat normal human being, and write if not for all the assistance and encouragement I get. I think most of us are like this.

But how often do we thank those who make what we do possible? I don't know if I do it enough, but along with my renewed interest in revising my novel I have renewed enthusiasm for appreciating those who help me.

That would be you. Reading this helps me. I know the connection may sound tenuous, but a writer is just a writer if no one reads the words. A writer communicates if someone reads them. The entire reason I write is to communicate. I talked about this in a previous post, and time has not revealed any other reason to me. I don't write to be famous or rich (which is a good thing because fame is not happening anytime soon and I am already rich beyond measure if the definition is having all that I need). But I do so like to communicate.

I think that's why my new job will suit me well. It is all about communicating. And communicating. And communicating. Did I mention the increase in the amount of communication I am doing? Just checking.

So, thank you for reading and for being my co-worker, friend, family and encourager. It is much appreciated.


Jo Taylor

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Another New Job

I have a new job again this year. Last year at this time I was writing about how I was going from House Supervisor (and de-facto master of the universe) to a desk-and-data job that was in the new universe of Monday through Friday eight to five. It was a rousing and successful year, full of getting up at a reasonable hour and going home on time. I am refreshed after having a "normal" life for a year.

Now, not to say that what I will be doing is "abnormal," but it is back in the realm of the Big House as I like to call it. I will be the Assistant Director of Case Management. Ohhh. What's that?

Case Management is nursing, but it is not the bedside nursing I am used to. It is nurses assisting patients and physicians through the maze of hospitalization and the payment for such. Or something like that. 

I basically can't explain it yet, and since there aren't any TV shows with Case Managers running into closets with hot young interns, it probably means that it's not really one of the exciting parts of nursing. But it is necessary and valuable, and I have great esteem for things that make me feel necessary and valuable. 

I'm looking forward to it for all the career-nursy reasons: something new, challenging, patient-centered. This last one is the part that also appeals to the writer-me: being able to interact with patients again. I have to say I missed it. Check with me next month though, and I may want to retract that statement.

Let's see, what else has happened since October (October? Really?)? 

Ten of my poems were published with some writer friends in an anthology that I'm pretty proud of.  Found here to my utter amazement.

One of my dear friends died in December and I miss her every day.

Thanksgiving and Christmas were wonderful.

We got our new puppy, Abby the black Lab, and already she is so big. Cute too. Really. See?

I got to see an old friend (Kim!) and meet her wonderful family and for that I am so grateful.

I've continued to send out stories and poems to publications and have gotten quite a few personalized rejections. I guess that's not too common, but while it feels good to know they really have read it and liked it enough to comment, the over-achiever can't quit at ALMOST.  

I usually try to have my blog posts come around to some theme, or be conveniently wrapped in a point or two, but just the basics are all I can muster at the moment. I think with blogging, it becomes a slog (hey, that rhymes) and I certainly don't have the time or energy to really compose. But I'm not ready to give this up yet either. I have to learn to let it be mediocre sometimes (or dismally bad?) in order to end up with some gems. 

I don't think this is one of the gems, but I thank you for reading. I'm shooting for 1 post per week - we'll see how it goes :)


Jo Taylor