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Michelle's Musings

The Sound of Music

We've all seen images of children clutching stuffed animals to distract them from the horrors of Putin's war on Ukraine. We've also observed glimmers of positivity amid the horrific destruction and loss of life that plays out on our television screens. In these heartrending, tumultuous times, artists share their talents in a surreal juxtaposition of entertainment with devastation. Pianist Davide Martello traveled 17 straight hours from Germany to the Polish-Ukrainian border with his piano in tow to play music for displaced refugees. Images of his instrument of peace being wheeled along war-torn streets imbued a dystopian backdrop with a modicum of promise. Another pianist performed Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" with grace and poise outside a Ukrainian train station, infusing a sense of light and optimism into a dark and desperate situation.


Generous acts of kindness remind us of the benevolent humanity that still exists in this world in spite of widespread divisiveness and tribalism. While the stressed-out, grief-stricken throngs of escapees milling about these performers don't necessarily stop to enjoy the show, I suspect this music, in stark contrast with the shelling and explosions with which they've had to contend, provides a temporary bit of respite.


A fire of determination burns in the eyes of these courageous citizens who stand united in their fight for democracy and the future of their homeland. Likewise, the glimpse of humanity with which writers endear their characters leads readers to become vested in seeing protagonists overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. While the conflict's somber narrative plays out on the world stage, we hold our collective breaths in cautious optimism and root for the welfare of victims of this senseless war. Hopefully, our heartfelt sentiments are music to their weary ears.

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The Final Chapter

Most would agree that 2020 has been a year of many firsts, heartaches, dreams gone bust, and precious little good in between. So many twists and turns that we thought we'd never see or experience. Lots of unique stories found their genesis in the Covid-19 pandemic. Empty store shelves early on set the stage for dark suspense. I imagine that we'll see more than a few creative works incorporating this unfortunate chapter in our history.


Although many stories have been written about natural disasters, there's something sacrilegious about exploiting the pandemic theme at this time, mainly because we're still in the throes of something akin to Armageddon, the Plague, or the Second Coming of Christ. While there are numerous plot lines, dastardly characters, and an abundance of tense drama to pull from 2020, we would still need to determine what it is our protagonist must achieve by the end of our story. Of course, you'd need a good antagonist to foil her quest to achieve that goal.


As we come to the end of this nightmare of a year, we might envision that nightmare ending on a positive note like any good read. Indeed, there are already signs of light at the end of a long and winding tunnel. But we need to stay tuned in, be focused and vigilant, and keep turning the pages of this hellish narrative to reach that satisfying conclusion.


On a brighter holiday season note: While contemplating alternate means to celebrate the spirit of the season with family and friends, consider bringing joy into the life of a stranger by doing something kind and unexpected. It will mean the world to them—and to yourself!

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Write to Relieve

2020 is a year unlike any other. My stress level has constantly risen as I take in devastating headlines that play across our computer monitors, TV screens, smart phones, tablets, and on and on and on. It's enough to make you throw everything out the window—Oh my! Even after turning off my digital information banks, my worry about the future of our democracy compels me to turn something back on for a brief update, which quickly turns into an extended one. Then I'm back into the cycle of ingesting (with indigestion) more dire news.


I recently found that writing helped defuse my angst about what is occurring outside my four walls when I was compelled to change the theme of my blog posts in response to the video of George Floyd's death. I started writing personal essays about my experiences navigating daily life as a woman of color. I also confronted the fact that much of my sentiments about those experiences is consciously and subconsciously suppressed so as not to make uncomfortable those around me who prefer to avoid acknowledging the existence of racism. The essays have been pouring out—I can't write them fast enough! Although I had planned to start a memoir soon, a collection of these snapshots of the larger project may end up replacing it.


If you find yourself overcome with negative emotions about the current political, financial, and public health crises, try writing about their impact on you even if you don't intend to publish the material. We must do what we can to preserve our sanities during this difficult time and, as writers, we have a precious opportunity to relieve tension through our creativity. Although a large portion of those who read about my truth will find it entirely different from their own, grappling with it has been downright liberating for me. Fortunately, I don't foresee having writers' block for the rest of this year, or the next.


And, consider this: Though we are a nation spawned from an ambitious yet horrific and storied beginning, the fact that we were resourceful enough to carry off this great American experiment and build a brand-new world, and resilient enough to rebuild after 9/11, surely means we can weather yet another storm!

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Tickle Your Fantasy

We are living in rough times, to put it mildly. I can't recall when I've ever known such chaos on so many fronts. We're seeing internal and external interference in our democratic election process in the midst of a divisive presidential election season; an unrelenting deadly coronavirus pandemic with its attendant record unemployment; and ongoing civic protest against longstanding racial injustices. How much more can we take?


As writers, we may wonder what we can do to help assuage the negative impact of these dire forces. Turning off the television might help, but we are surrounded by media on which we tend to rely not only for current events but also for information about our industry. So I have another timely idea that syncs with the upcoming National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in which writers are challenged to produce 50,000 words of a brand-new novel during November.


For an escape from the madness, I suggest a writing prompt that goes something like this: Create and write about your ideal fantasyland to which you can get away whenever you need a respite. Your destination can be as fanciful and colorful as one of your more vivid fantastical dreams set in a foreign land, or as serene and meditative as hiding out in an austere hut at a faraway beach in the most tropical of locations where the sun reliably shines and the breeze always calms.


Good fiction contains a relatable protagonist—you; a strong plot line; conflict (maybe not so much for this exercise!); powerful dialogue (internal monologue will do well here), and a wonderfully detailed setting. All of these aspects of storytelling needn't be present for this short exercise, but try including those you've previously found troublesome. This exercise can also apply to nonfiction writers who want to spruce up their works with a touch of creativity.


The point is to write a short story about a destination to which you can periodically venture and nurture your mental health. Only you can create the ideal escape, because only you know what best tickles your fantasy. No one will criticize your work—except you, of course!


So go ahead, and dream big. Though we still have to deal with reality, maybe this exercise will help us reemerge from this nightmare with our sanities intact.

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Make it Happen

In my last post (April 15), I suggested that, as writers, we might encourage others to take up the craft during this time of social distancing. We all know someone who's been "dying" to write a book about something. I think those sentiments are earnest for the most part but hampered, in many cases, by the inability to get past go. I suggested a good start would be to read about the craft of writing.


Of course, that recommendation applies to other avenues of creation. And there are plenty of online resources out there for the novice in just about any subject one can imagine. How about learning the basics of watercolor painting, or going after that degree you've been planning to pursue or complete? Personally, I've been experimenting with low-calorie, low-carb baking, and I've referred to online video instruction to learn how to "twist" my hair into a BIG curly look that is all the rage these days.


More recently, I participated in two Zoom video conferences, the first led by a guest speaker organized by one of my writers organizations. The other was a reading session with six authors arranged by my alma mater's alumnae association. I finally understand how folks have virtual cocktail parties, concerts, and simultaneous movie screenings. The process was fun and efficient.


We are an innovative society. We can pretty much accomplish anything if we put our minds to it. If you write regularly but are looking for a stimulating diversion, why not make the most of your stay-at-home mandate by exploring what it is you've "always wanted to do" (besides write)? No better time than the current one to make it happen!

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