Imagine if the Beatles never existed.

Such is the premise of the movie “Yesterday,” now playing in theaters. The film is clever. It’s cute. It’s funny. And it got me to thinking.

Imagination is at the heart of creativity, and given that reality, there are endless possibilities around what we choose to draw, paint, write about, sing about, etc. Furthermore, there are possibilities revealed to us through regular day-to-day events and activities—a beautiful window box of flowers inspires us to replicate it on canvas, an interesting turn of phrase inspires us to write a poem—and possibilities that we would have never considered had we not sat down and primed our creative pump. The latter inspired the following exercise…

  1. “Imagine if the Beatles never existed.” In this sentence, “the Beatles” is the subject and “never existed” is an action. Let’s devise a list of several other subjects and actions. Here’s mine:
    • IMG_3710

      My two piles of subjects and actions

      Subjects: The Royal Family, a farmer, a Bible study group, the Trump administration, a tribe of aborigines, a high school marching band, an NFL football team, the Disney princesses

    • Actions: Started a forest fire, invented teleportation, biked across the U.S., cured cancer, vacationed in Italy, cloned themselves, owned a bakery, became super heroes
  2. I wrote all sixteen of my subjects and actions on separate pieces of paper. Keeping them separated in the two categories, I mixed up the papers and put them face down in two piles. Drawing one piece of paper from each pile, I arrived at the following possibilities—imagine if:
    • A high school marching band owned a bakery.
    • A tribe of aborigines biked across the U.S.
    • The Trump administration cured cancer.
    • A farmer started a forest fire.
    • The Royal Family cloned themselves.
    • A Bible study group invented teleportation.
    • The Disney princesses vacationed in Italy.
    • An NFL football team became super heroes.

I’m not one to dabble in fiction, but how fun would it be to take some of these ideas and develop them into complete stories or fantastical paintings or an all-out screenplay! “Imagine,” said John Lennon. Now you try it!


Finished project: “Trinity” (Macrame)


I completed my first piece of macrame and found a little corner for it to hang in my kitchen! Overall impression: Macrame is a full-body sport—I found it most comfortable to twist and tie while on my feet.

Read “On Trying MACRAME” post>>


Great Expectations

As a Timberwolves season-ticket holder, my husband, Terry, has become very familiar with the downtown Minneapolis parking scene. He knows all the slick tricks related to entering and exiting a busy parking garage. Though his routine is strategic with regard to timing and location, the order of things is quite simple: park the car, watch the game, visit the payment machine, exit the ramp. Nothing to it.

Terry’s “receipt”… or is it?

Last Tuesday, when it came time for Terry to visit the payment machine, his request seemed  pretty straightforward. All he wanted was a receipt. After  pushing the appropriate button, the machine made its typical scratching and spitting sounds. All signs indicated that it was hard at work documenting Terry’s comings and goings–that it was generating a perfect summary of his proof of purchase. However, when the apparatus eventually coughed out a “receipt,” it showed no date, no cost, no location. It showed none of the details that one would expect.

Expectations. We have them of each other. We have them of circumstances. And we have them of words. For instance, if the machine had offered a map or a menu  instead, Terry would have had an entirely different expectation, all in thanks to the intricate distinctions we make between words and the items or conditions assigned to them.

In my last post, I relayed the importance of fact checking. Here, I simply encourage my fellow writers to take great care with word choice. After all, our decisions will spur great expectations among our readers.

WRITING PROMPT 1: Make a brief list of basic terms (e.g., apple, book, calendar, diary). What makes each thing distinctive from any other thing in existence? Write your own definitions.

WRITING PROMPT 2: Think about the recent presidential debate. What if it had been called something else (e.g., a presentation, a cookie exchange, a talent show)? Write a scene showing how the event would have played out under this different title.

By All Appearances

I got to know my neighborhood pretty well this past summer. I resolved to run at least three times a week on the main drags and through the windy streets of my community. As a result, I could tell you where there are dips in the pavement, barky dogs, lush yards, weedy yards–all the things I came to expect every time along my path.

As my expectations grew, so did my observations around what changed from day to day. New landscaping here. A coat of fresh paint there. One morning, I couldn’t help but notice some atypical pieces of debris along Winnetka Avenue.

They were clumpy. They were grassy. They were dried up and ugly. To me, by all appearances, they were the foul droppings of a horse. A horse along one of the busiest side streets of the West Metro? With evidence in plain sight, I fully believed it could happen.

A few days later, my parents joined me for a walk along Winnetka. In time, we came upon my discovery, and I was quick to share my theory that a horse and rider must have somehow, for some reason, made their way down the well-traveled street’s sidewalk in recent days.

“You think that’s from a horse?” my dad interjected. “That’s just the stuff that collects in lawnmowers.”

Okay, so my imagination can run away from me, and this incident also proves that I’m not cut out for any kind of CSI work. But I’d like to think my openness to other possibilities only helps with my writing. It stirs my ideas for stories. It feeds the twists and turns that make plots and characters so fun to create.

WRITING PROMPT 1: Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper to create two columns. Make a list of objects in the first column (e.g., a simple piece of rope), then ask yourself if those objects could be perceived as other things with grander stories (e.g., the rigging of a sailboat lost at sea). Jot your imaginings in the second column, and consider how they could be woven into your writing projects.

WRITING PROMPT 2: Recall a time when you believed something was true by all appearances, but later found out you were way off track. Write about it.

The Nose Knows

With Louisa, it was easy to bare my heart. To spend countless hours just knitting, just talking, just being. To depend on her as a true and trusted friend.

I miss Louisa every day. In 2008, she lost her life to pneumonia, a “complication” brought on by rheumatoid arthritis. For several weeks, the hospital became our second home as we waited and hoped… and as we eventually watched her life slip away.

A few weeks after Louisa’s death, I found myself in another hospital visiting a family member. But nature called, and I stopped at the restroom before making my way up to his room. After doing my “business,” I did as convention and personal hygiene dictate: I washed my hands.

Sweet, flowery, painfully familiar. The smell. The soap. Its scent transported me to a time and a host of feelings I thought were well behind me. I left the restroom, found a quiet corner, and tended to my unexpected tears.

To this day, I can’t go in for a physical, visit a sick friend, etc., without that whiff of hospital soap bringing a certain pressure to my eyes and an ache to my chest. Though some time has passed and my grief is less raw, it seems my nose still knows what an incredible loss Louisa’s death will always be to me.

So is it any wonder that writers are encouraged to employ all the senses when setting a scene or developing a character? Such are the triggers that can drive flashbacks, progression, regression, etc. Such are the stepping stones along a story’s path.

WRITING PROMPT 1: Make a list of the smells that trigger some kind of emotional reaction within you.

WRITING PROMPT 2: Perhaps you’re at a crossroads in the plot of a story you’re writing. How will you use the characters’ senses to help the story move along?

Spam, Ham–Thank You, Ma’am

The other day I blogged about homographs. Today I blog about ham graphs.

Ham versus spam

The Akismet function of WordPress not only detects “spam,” the creepers who try to invade my blog with commercial ploys and vicious scams. It also keeps track of the good stuff or the “ham,” the comments made by legitimate followers and other friends. Colorful bar graphs and pie charts show where my blog stands in both spam and ham. Of course, I’m happy to report that the ham is ahead.

Pork products seem to play a special role in my world of linguistics. In fact, there’s an interesting bit of family trivia on my mother’s side involving “the other white meat.” Hogg was my great-great grandmother’s maiden name. As fate would have it, she married my great-great grandfather, whose last name was Bacon. Needless to say, the local newspaper of the day had much fun with that particular wedding announcement when “a Hogg became Bacon.” To take it a step further, I like to imagine this couple getting into some kind of “beef”–now that would be a story!

So where is this going? I guess I’m just trying to say that words are fun. Words have their very literal meanings (e.g., ham = Iowa’s favorite salty pink meat), plus their connotations, idioms, etc. (e.g., ham = positive feedback on a blog, a show-off). As writers, we get to play with them all.

WRITING PROMPT 1: Use an interesting bit of family trivia to inspire one of your stories.

WRITING PROMPT 2: Begin a story or poem with an idiom (visit idiomsite.com for ideas).