Monday, November 22, 2010


Breakthroughs in thinking are very fine things. They are the free dessert on your birthday, a thank you from your too-cool-for-school child, a freebie for getting up far too early on Black Friday.

The problem with a breakthrough is remembering it. Having a Swiss cheese memory wherein the holes can't be predicted, I write everything down, just in case. I have baskets and decorative boxes filled with little scraps of paper that hold years of ahah moments. I sift through them now and again to remind myself what's there.

And thus, the problem: keeping three-by-five cards on hand, and finding a damned pen. This morning, it was all about the pen. Where my dozens of free-flowing pens have gone, I can only guess. I had only one option, which was just a smidge better than a carving tool, and only if I dragged the tip around v e r y s l o w l y.

The upside was, by the time I was finished chiseling my 'Sherry Lewis Bit of Wisdom' onto a card, it had been carved into my brain as well. In fact, I could probably toss the card-gasp!-and still remember, years from now, that I must compel my hero or heroine to make up their bloody minds, and that something else must be put in jeopardy if he or she reaches for that brass ring.

The first point, Newanda, is that we must slow down if we are to truly improve, be it brain function or writing craft. Not easy to do on the fast track to anywhere.

The second point, dear Newanda, is the whole idea of jeopardy. It's compelling stuff. It's what makes a simple movie about a run-away train an absolute thrill to watch.

But lets get back to that brass ring before I turn movie-critic...

When I lived in Spokane, Washington, a real-life merry-go-round operated in the middle of the city, left-over from the World's Fair if I remember correctly. Growing up near an amusement park in Utah, I thought I knew about merry-go-rounds. Not so.

The point of this ride was to get the brass ring. THE brass ring. Lots of people talk about grabbing the brass ring; this is where you learn where the term comes from.

A thin metal chute reaches like an arm toward the merry-go-round. Metal rings are loaded into the chute. At the end, and most importantly, JUST OUT OF REACH, of the horsey riders, a single ring hangs, ready to be plucked if the rider is quick enough, accurate enough, and bold enough to hang on in spite of their arms being nearly ripped off.

Yes, timing is everything, and luckily, the merry-go-round lifts the outside horses at just the right moment. But luck is also a player because sometimes, the ring isn't silver, but brass. If your ring is silver, you've still done a brave thing, but you try to toss the ring in the clown's mouth on the far side of the ride, then hope your next one is brass. If your ring is brass, you get a free ride. At least that's what I remember after #@*!? years.

The way your heart jumps when you see gold at the end of the chute, knowing it could be yours, is a great rush, I don't care how old you are. Everything has been put into the anticipation of this moment. The rise of your pony, the incredible wind-in-your-hair-speed of the merry-go-round ('cause these guys aren't there to entertain enfants), and the number of passes it takes to warm up your arm, practice your accuracy, and suffer the disappointment of coming away with the silver--all combine to make you feel like an olympian with victory within your reach when the gold ring slides into place.

BUT, it's not. It's not within your reach. Even if you're tall enough, old enough, to ride on the outside lane and try for the rings, the chute is never within your reach. It's just a few inches too far. And if you are ever going to get off your butt to do something amazing in your life, the time to do so is on this merry-go-round.

You must stand up, stretch, and let go of the pole j u s t e n o u g h t o s c a r e t h e c r a p out of you, to be able to touch it. And then touching won't do it. If you approach it like a jouster and think you can poke your finger in the hole and just follow-through, you're wrong. There is no easy. There is no safe. There is only commitment.

Commitment is this:
You must hook your finger in the hole, clamp it tight, and then whip your arm behind you with all your might and yank it out just before your arm comes out of it's socket. That's commitment. That's the real follow-though.

How committed are you charaters to their goals? Will they get enough of a payoff if they do the daring deed? Or will they get a silver ring to chuck into the clowns mouth, maybe make the clown's nose light up? How fun is that, really?

I don't know about you, but thanks to a slowly carved lesson from SL, I'm going to make that goal a little harder to reach, a little harder to hold, a little more risky to reach for, and a little more important to obtain. All that has to pay off in a great read, doesn't it?

Thanks Sherry!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


So, you know how I hate to miss a good party, or a potentially good party?
Well, Nanowrimos in San Francisco are having a whopper on November 21st, and since I can't go to that, I decided we need one in the Utah area.

So, on Saturday, November 21st, I'm holding a CRAZY IVAN PARTY at my home in Layton, Utah. 5-11 pm. Laptops and food. No talking except at the top of the hour when everyone will have five minutes to get more food and drink and get back in their seats.

It's a writing marathon, for Nano of course, but if it is any fun at all, we'll maybe try another in January--a chance to kick the year off on a productive note.

You should try one too. Get your writing buddies together. Have everyone bring sustenance and make your laptops hum. Quietly, of course. Except at the top of the hour.

We shall call these moments of chaos...CRAZY IVANS!
(RED OCTOBER fans? Anyone?)
I'm going to need a seaman's whistle.