All kinds of mothering

lilac bouquetI am reminded that there is both joy and sorrow in Mother’s Day. Joy, for the present family connections. Sorrow and regret for mothers who are no longer with us.

But it also occurs to me that the primary attributes that we celebrate in mothers: care taking, love, empathy for others, are present in all of us, whether we are women or men, biological mothers or not.

For example, we are mothering when we take care of, and love the tools of our trade. I am reminded of my father, a carpenter and gardener, whose day in the shop or in the field wasn’t complete until all tools were cleaned of mud and grit, polished, and put back where they belonged. That way, he was able to lay a hand on them instantly the next time they were needed. His favorite phrase was, “Take care of the things that take care of you.” He was right!

We take care of and love, other living beings. It goes without saying that I spoil both of my fur babies rotten. They are talked to, coddled, and given the best places to sleep in the bed and on the couch. I, in turn, rearrange myself in the left-over space around them.

But care and attention also extends to the cats next door. One is a gray puss with big eyes, an outside cat with human-parents who sometimes leave for days at a time for work in another town. She’s learned that there’s a fresh water dish and food at my house, at the ready for her in a sheltered area. Her buddy, an orange Tom with a chewed ear, has found a home-away-from-home with two little girls across the street.

We love and take care of both our own children, and others. Watch what happens when a small child gets lost and separated from parents in a large store. Some adult will step up and make sure the child is delivered to the front of the store where a loud-speaker announcement soon ensues, to locate the frantic parents.

We love and take care of total strangers. Once when I was rear-ended on a busy street, I was helped from the car by the guy that hit me! And then strangers were dialing immediately for EMTs. Three burly guys pushed my car out of the traffic lane. We do these things, instinctively.

Where we fall down, sometimes, is closer to home. I am of the opinion that we don’t love and take care of ourselves enough. Sometimes I forget it is a partnership and not a dictatorship from the neck downward.

When I am mindful, I eat what my microbiome needs for nutrition and energy. I exercise, even when I don’t “feel” like it, so that my body gets the stretching and movement that it needs.

But often, when I flub up on a risk that I’ve taken or a venture that’s gone sour, instead of being compassionate with my humanness, I berate and judge myself in the worst possible derogatory terms. I am merciless with my scorn and derision for the failure.

I wonder, why I do this to myself?

Why can’t we be as mothering to ourselves as we are to others?

It’s something I’m working on, especially this very special of days, Mother’s Day.

Early morning walk in Sedona

Sedona dawn clouds arizonaI started the walk before dawn, collecting clouds as I went. Wispy ones darted in and out of the red rock formations; others nestled in puddles after midnight rains. The pine needles had felted into heavy mats that softened the ground beneath my feet. They created soft nests for windfalls of storm-blown pine cones.

prickly pear cactusThe prickly pear cactus were loaded with buds of gray-green fruit that would swell to magenta chalices in the fall, luring families of javelina to gorge on the ripe fruit. I might walk down the road then and see scatterings of red seedy scat.

The Pyracantha were loaded with caper-sized green berries that would turn red later in the year, a bonanza for urbanized deer who would jump five-foot fences to gorge on the orange-red berries.

In the pre-dawn hush, the birds weren’t feeding, just quietly murmuring in the trees like a group of dorm buddies waiting for breakfast. The flies would wait until full sun, but the mosquitoes were active.  A red welt swelled on my wrist and I picked up the pace.

As the sun burned the morning air gold, a male cardinal swooped from a shaggy-bark juniper, its feathers a carmine red. In the scrub oak, a nearby rival acted serenely unimpressed.

Overhead, a phainopepla’s black-and-white wingtips flashed semaphore signals as it landed, bending the top needle-branch of a pinion pine.

 

The dog walkers hadn’t arrived yet, but one skinny marathon runner adjusted a knee brace and jogged painfully down the hill. I waved to early morning construction crews who were setting up for the day’s work. A scruffy bicyclist wearing a military green scrub cap, old T-shirt and cargo pants puffed heavily as he made the hill top. He gave me a grin of co-conspirators, out in these early hours.

sedona cat on wall

 

I shared the morning with the animals.  A calico cat jumped from a stone wall for a scritch behind one ear.  A gray Kaibab squirrel gleaned sunflower seeds from the feeder almost too high above its reach.  A cottontail rabbit elongated its hops into leaps as I grew closer.

 

I didn’t have to own anything to be a part of that glorious morning, and yet I felt immensely wealthy.

The whole world spread before me, free for the taking, when I slowed down and paid attention to the gifts the day offered.

5 ways to deepen emotional layering in your writing

Even experienced wordsmiths struggle to portray deep emotion in their writing. It’s as hard as mining copper from sulfur-laden rocks.

Writers may either tell about the emotion, for example, “He felt really, really angry.” Or, they may use the “dot-dot-dot” bypass popular when describing sex in 40s novels: “They entered the bedroom, the lights went out, and the next day…”

But effective writers know that emotion is a vital part of the human experience and pull it into their writing whenever possible.

Here are five way to deepen the emotional layering in your writing:

1. Accept the challenge that writing about emotion is hard. Good writers get immersed in their words, just as they hope their readers will. And writing about unpleasant emotions is difficult. Who wants to experience, even vicariously, the deep emotions of rage, grief, humiliation, sorrow, fear?

Delve into a time you, yourself had such a feeling. How did you feel experiencing it? What preceded the emotional outburst? How did you relive and rationalize your experience afterwards? Then write about the universal emotion that you felt, and that your character is also feeling.

2. Emotion is a daisy chain. Your character doesn’t immediately go on a rampage or experience an out-of-the-blue terror about high places. Something came before. Consider giving your characters a chance to delve into their back story internally. “This was just like the time when I was four, and the dog next door pushed through the fence and bit me.”

3. Emotion is physical. The old adage “show don’t tell” is critical here. An emotion courses through a person’s body, affecting their breathing, heart rate, skin temperature, stomach tension. Only then may it be reflected outward on the facial muscles: clenching the jaw, frowning, weeping. Finally it erupts into words: “You can’t mean that!” and actions: “He slammed the door so hard the glass cracked.”

emotional thesaurus angela ackerman

 

 

Angela Ackerman’s book, Emotional Thesaurus is highly recommended to help you begin this journey of writing about the inward and outward signs of physical emotions.

 

 

 

4. Emotion is slower than rational thought. Think of seven objects: an orange, the London Bridge, a deck of cards, a big tree, a mailbox, a white horse, a can of Pepsi.

Not hard, right?

Now, picture in your mind each of these: fear, terror, joy, amusement, irritation, embarrassment, hesitation…

Can you feel your mind stopping to ponder each experience before moving on?

Give your readers a chance to do the same thing. Don’t rush over emotion, but rather create a scene that can fully explore what’s happening. And then go back and lengthen it by twice.

5. There is an arc to emotion. In other words, the emotion will typically build in intensity.

For example, the character punches the alarm and sleeps too late. In her rush to get ready for work, the glass of orange juice spills to the floor, she trips on the rug on her way out the door, the car battery is dead…by the time she gets to the office, she explodes at her assistant over one small typo in a memo…

And a bonus concept to build your emotional writing skills:

6. Emotions are not rational. Your character in the middle of intense emotion is not going to stop and think, Oh, I am afraid.”

But afterwards, there can be a place for a rational assessment of what happened: “I was stupid for going into that dark alley alone.” “I really did a good job at that presentation, even though I was nervous.”

Or they may decide to do differently next time. “I’ve got to watch myself and not make such a fuss. It wasn’t my assistant’s fault I was late.”

emotional craft of fiction donald maas

 

 

 

Donald Maas, in his wonderful book: The Emotional Craft of Fiction, explains that the purpose of fiction is to get the reader to feel their own emotions, triggered by the words on the page.

 

 

Think about it. What authors do is time-travel. They are able to connect with anonymous readers somewhere in the far distant future.

Including deep emotions in your writing can layer, deepen, and enrich your work. This skill makes your reader eager to return a second, and a third time, demanding more. Exactly what you as a writer want!