What’s in a Name?

February 20, 2009

Stimulus package. Bailout. Writers know that the names we choose have power. 

That became very clear as I began my first day teaching writing residency at Discovery High School in The Dalles, Oregon. The students and I wrote about our own names– their history, why our parents chose them, whether we have shortened or changed them. Some of us have been gifted nicknames by our friends or loved ones–new names that speak to our connections with one another. 

As we read our writing, we learned details about one another that may have never come up in casual conversation–about names that are taken and then changed as families change, about our ethnic roots and customs of our native countries, about who knew in great detail about why their names were chosen and about others who didn’t have a clue. 

In my own wiritng, I shared with the class that my Danish nieces call me “Fasta Lori” which means “my father’s sister”. Unlike my own sons who have difficult time keeping their aunts and uncles from each side of the fmaily straight, my Danish nieces know who I am. The woman whose Christmas picture is up on their fridge halfway around the world is their father’s sister.  

Despite my nieces efforts to teach me more of their language , the only Danish phrase that has really stuck in my mind is  Fasta Lori. Like my youngest niece whose first English word when I met her in America was was “cookie” , Fasta Lori is easy on my tongue and sweet in my mouth. It means love and connection that reach across an ocean and beyond words.

What is the origin of your name?  Are you named after a family member? A famous person? Do you like your name? Hate it?  How has your name shaped your  image of yourself?


Hanging Out in the Middle

December 22, 2008

What is it about the creative process? This morning I am struggling with an article I’m writing on hazardous waste recycling. The topic intrigued me when I first heard about local efforts by the tri-county  program in our area that allows households, businesses and agricultural producers to recycle pesticides, oil paint and other toxic stuff  free of charge.  I even tucked a few of my own bottles of the yucky sutff into my trunk when I headed out to take photos of the collection event for the article. 

An impressive gathering. More than 60 cars were served in the f irst 1 1/2 hours.  

Yet, now with an okay draft of the article on my hands, the intital excitement about the topic  has waned.

What is it about the middle of projects?  Novels, closet decluttering, article writing.  There always comes a time when I find myself mid-project and  wonder what in the world I am doing and how I can possibly get it finished. 

I imagine that’s what the folks at these hazardous waste collection events are thinking when they standing knee deep in bottles of stuff that they asked for and now have to figure out what to do with.  Like those recyclers, my article has the components that I need to create  something valuable. I have the data, the quotes,  a decent opening paragraph.  

What middles teach me is that the next step has nothing to do with moving  the words on the page  or the old pants in the back of the closet that I no longer fit into.  The next step is in my mind.  Whether reusing or recycling words or the paper they are printed on, I must reimagine my origianl idea.  Plastic bags can become park benches, an old window can become a cold frame roof for my lettuce seedlings. Reimagined, recycled glass bottles pave the road to our county landfill.  But only because someone saw the value of what is there and recreated it as something new.

It is the same with ideas.  It is not easy to hang out in the landfill of words and ideas trying to see above the garbage. Yet, it is in staying “in the middle”  that I am forced to let go of what I expect my writing/closet/life  to be when I began it so it can become what it needs to be now. 

 Some call it “the tyranny of the original idea”. I call it part of the process.

 Where is your life are you hanging out in the middle?   

Welcome to The Story Behind the Words

December 17, 2008

With the people I meet and the conversations I have, there is always plenty to talk about. Thread and tangents spool out from the original topic taking me on adventures I haven’t expected. Whether dropping down deeper or skimming along the surface, there is always some tidbit of learning to take away. 

 As I writer,  there are limits to how much of these stories I can share with others in print– limts such as word count,  story angle and maintianing my distance and objectivity as the narrator.  Limits are necesary. With them,  a writer  sculpts and crafts a topic to fit on the pages of a particular publication or aparticular readership.  

Yet, what happens to all the goodies that are cut from those original drafts,  the delicious details that just don’t fit into the final article? In what ways does an  interivew with a subject change the life of the writer?

Like those few minutes of film that reveal what happens after the director yells “cut”,  The Story Behind the Words provides a glimpse into the rest of the story — anecdotes, information and reflections about what made it on the published pages and what did not. 

Join me here often because there is always more to say on a subject.