Things I notice

I’m beyond tired of writing about gloom and doom, depressing thoughts, so I turned to Plinky for a little help. Plinky asked, “What are the first things you notice about people you just met?”

I’m so glad you asked, Plinky. It’s Bonnaroo week in my hometown. At least 80,000 strangers have invaded. No doubt about it. I’m going to meet someone new this week. Yeah! New people = new stories.

The first thing I notice is what people are wearing. I prefer clothes. But being Bonnaroo week and all, that’s not always the case. Point is, it’s just plain awkward for a clothed person to interact with a non-clothed person in a wardrobe-expected environment, and it’s near impossible for the clothed person not to stare. Staring is just not cool if you’re trying to be polite.

Other than nakedness, nothing really fazes me. I’m a teacher. I’ve seen just about everything—every color of hair and lack of hair and every clothing style from skirts on males sitting in my English class to chainmail on females perusing the school library. I’ve seen some of the most unusual piercings and tattoos and feathers. What really matters to me is what’s on the inside of the person.

I’m always intrigued by people who aren’t afraid to be themselves, so if a person is wearing something really unique I’m going to notice. I like unique—especially if it’s colorful and mosaic. When I see it, I drift away into my dream world and wonder WHY—why THAT outfit, why THAT color. Why, why, why. The more I learn about writing books, the more I learn about character motivation.

Of course, character motivation is something I deal with every day. Every 45 minutes or so, 25 or more characters file into my classroom. I have to be on top of my game and anticipate what they’re up to next so that I
can prevent them from carrying out random acts of stupidity—like launching a pencil across the room (past dozens of eyes) or cheating on a big test and risking immediate failure.

So, Plinky, I notice the outer human being. I just want to be careful not to judge. I am a conservative person—most of the time. But just as some people can go to the far extreme of being free (and clothingless), sometimes people can be so restrictive that they try to rope others and drag them into their tiny boxes. When the roped try to get out, the noose around their necks will tighten, and they’ll get lynched. Mercy and grace. Mercy and grace. When I see something I don’t understand—or like, I pray for mercy for my condemning attitude so that I can offer grace. (But depending on what my snarky meter says that day, I may not make it without letting a comment or two slip. I’m working on it.)

More importantly, what I notice above all is a person’s eyes—the windows to the soul. I warm up pretty quickly to kind eyes. I stay away from arrogant eyes. Mischievous eyes are like the Pied Piper. I can’t help but fall under their spell. Do the eyes show compassion? Then I’ll probably edge a little closer. Do they show ill intent? I’ll mosey on over to somewhere else, not that I want to be rude. It’s hard for people to lie with their eyes, but some
people are better at it than others. I don’t think I’d be a good poker player. My eyes give me away every time.

Of course, a person’s smile is just as important as the eyes. I definitely take notice. Is the smile plastered on? Perfunctory? Fake? I don’t like fake. Flash me a fake smile, and it’s sayonara for me.

All of these things, clothing, the eyes, the smile, are visual elements that either draw or repel two people. There are four other senses, five if you count intuition, a woman’s best friend.

What do people sound like when they talk or sing? What type of music do they listen to? Are they physically distant? Afraid to shake your hand or give you a hug? Too touchy-feeling? Do they invade your space?

Speaking of touch, what do their hands look like? Sounds like an odd question, but for a writer, it’s an important one. I once worked at a soup line at the Rescue Mission in Nashville. One thing I noticed as I was serving the food was that some of the men had hands that could almost be described as smooth—but with callouses. They were musicians, just a little down on their luck once arriving to town. If I had time to talk, I’m sure I would have discovered some real stories there, heartbreaking, I’m afraid.

As for taste or smell, that’s a little too personal, even concerning my new Bonnaroo friends.

But, concerning my new Bonnaroo friends, I think I’ll head on down to the big W on the edge of town and do a little people watching. There’s bound to be a great story or two out there.

Plinky 11 — Name a book that changed your life

Is it possible to fall in love with the characters in a book? The book itself?

I remember the day I met The Outsiders. It was check-out day in the school library day, sixth grade, and I needed a book. Mrs. Sprouse, our librarian, had combed the shelves for another horse novel, but there wasn’t one left I hadn’t read. I spotted a hardback with a white cover lying on its side on a shelf it didn’t belong on. I’m not sure why I was drawn to it. Maybe it chose me.


As soon I read the first page, I was mesmerized. It has shaped me as a teacher, as a writer, and as a human being.

Here’s my list of 11 Ways:

1. The main character Ponyboy Curtis spoke to me. He shared his thoughts and feelings with me. I knew where he was coming from. I knew what it was like to live on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. He was a good student—so was I. He saw the good in people—so did I. He was a dreamer who liked watching sunsets—so did I. I learned how to get “into” my reading as I made this connection.

2. Maybe Ponyboy became an extension of myself. I learned to see the good in me.

3. This book made me feel as no other book had ever done. My emotions ran the gamut. Ponyboy appealed to my rational side. He was a thinker, but his older brother Darry was a doer, who was too busy raising his younger brothers after their parents died than to sit and appreciate the beauty of sunsets the way Ponyboy did. Darry used to bake chocolate cakes for his brothers and keep them in the refrigerator. (To this day, that’s my favorite desert—and on those rare occasions when I treat myself to chocolate cake, I have to keep it in the refrigerator. )

4. I guess Darry reminded me of my father, always doing the responsible thing. I learned to appreciate the sacrifices my parents made for me.

5. I love people. I love all types of people. I love taking care of people. When I take care of people, I have purpose. The other characters made me long to take care of them. My heart ached for them:

  • Dallas (the thug who provoked the police with an unloaded gun and made them shoot him because he couldn’t carry the hurt he felt after Johnny died)
  • Johnny (the underdog, abused by his parents and tormented by the Socs, who risks his life to save the children and who encourages Ponyboy to “stay gold”)
  • M&M (the innocent little boy who later overdoses on LSD in a drug house and is never again the same)

6. As much as I identified with Ponyboy, it was Sodapop who tugged at my heart. Unlike Ponyboy, Sodapop dropped out of high school. There was no one to encourage him, no one to one to tell him to follow his passions.

I wanted to be the one.

He made me want to be an encourager. He did what he had to do to help support his family. He was good at working on cars, so he took a job at the gas station. Sodapop was always happy, always thinking of others. I think that’s why I fell in love with his character.

7. Throughout The Outsiders, Sodapop is the character who gets “drunk on just plain living”  and “understands everybody.” He wears his hair long, possesses dark brown eyes that are “dancing, recklessly laughing, and “can make you grin no matter what.” He is the peacemaker, the one who holds everything together in the family. Who wouldn’t be drawn to Sodapop? He helps all of us see the good.

8. Hmmm. Is it possible to take a character from your childhood with you to adulthood? I think the spirit of Sodapop shows up in some of my characters.

9. The Outsiders changed my life. Back then when I was in sixth grade, I didn’t understand how. I certainly didn’t understand why. But it made me want to read.

10. The Outsiders also made me to write, to “write real,” the way S.E. Hinton did. (She was only 16 when she wrote The Outsiders.)

11. Most importanly, once I finished the book, I refused to return it to the library, and I slept with it under my pillow each night. I carried it with me everywhere I went. It touched my heart so profoundly that I didn’t want to let it go.

I still don’t.

What book changed your life?

Plinky 11- How do I express my creativity?

It’s after midnight. I have school in the morning—only I can’t sleep. Too many thoughts swirl in my head.

Questions plus no answers equal no sleep.

Whenever I’m in this crazed state of mind, I usually have something I want to say—but can’t say. Some people call it writer’s block, but block isn’t the right word. Is there such a thing as writer distraction?  Writer paralysis? Writer confusion? Writer desperation?

Because I’m going to be up anyway—at least for a few more minutes, I thought I’d share with you a nifty little writing site that works for writers, teachers, and students. I’m a little of all those, so you know I like it.

It’s called Plinky, and it works like this. The administrators put up a new prompt each day, and members respond. Want to write something for your blog, but you just can’t come up with an idea? Visit Plinky. Read past prompts and answers from other members. You might just get inspired. I did.

I’m adding a new category to my blogs—Plinky 11, in honor of Plinky and 2011. Plinky prompts, and I provide 11 answers. Feel free to add your own thoughts. I’m using Sunday’s prompt.

What are your favorite ways to express your creativity?  (In addition to writing YA fiction and magazine articles)

  1. I listen to the radio, and I imagine whatever song is playing to be the theme music of the story I create in my mind. Even though my story is only for me, it’s still a form of creative expression. It’s like I’m creating my own little movie.
  2. I pick up my guitar and play a melody that’s always inspired by my emotions. Sometimes regret. Sometimes love. Sometimes hurt. Sometimes joy. Sometimes anger. Sometimes confusion. Sometimes praise for all God’s given me.
  3. When I can, I log whatever song lyrics come to mind into my computer. Someday I’ll piece them together like a quilt of feelings and create a song.
  4. I take pictures, especially anything that’s intriguing and mysterious like old barns, cemeteries, the silhouettes of trees against sunset skies, etc. I also like taking pictures of musicians. No surprise. Not to brag, but my Steven Curtis Chapman took first place at the fair—mullet and all. My picture of a sax player leaning against a tree in Jackson Square in New Orleans took second. Fun stuff.
  5. I look up random quotes on Quote Garden or and pick one to launch a story. Here’s one:  “Meeting you was fate, becoming your friend was a choice, but falling in love with you I had no control over.” This one could be a love song.
  6. I draw or doodle.
  7. I write poems—but they rarely rhyme.
  8. I write a note of appreciation in My Book of Blessings about someone in my life who has blessed me in a special way. This book is for me and God only.
  9. I sit down at my piano and improvise.
  10. I daydream and imagine “what if.”
  11. I stay up past midnight and write a blog as I wrestle with my thoughts.

How do you express your creativity?