What would we do without spellcheck? Would we miss the little red squiggle? Years ago, when word processing wasn’t a thing, we would have to look words up in a dictionary. Remember those? I didn’t think so. A dictionary was (still is, really) a thick book of every single word, in alphabetical order, with important information about pronunciation, word type, origin, and definition.
The problem was, if you didn’t know how to spell it, how can you look it up? Well, no one really needs to look up a word if they can’t kinda spell it, but it does take longer the less correct letters you know.
And don’t get me started on the “i” before “e” rule. It is so full of loopholes and exceptions, it’s like studying tax law.
Now to the point. What words always–or almost always–warrant that red squiggle? I had to write post-apocalyptic stories to be able to spell apocalyptic correctly. I still have to look at my fingers when I type it, and it still never looks right.
My two most commonly misspelled words are: definitely and immediately.
Everybody has at least one. Only one if they are lucky. One in the kitchen (pencils, twist-ties, battteries, keys, etc.), one in the workshop (old bolts, screws, extra IKEA parts, allen wrenchs), well, you get the idea.
Writers are the same. I know I always have ideas floating around that if I don’t write them down, I’ll lose them. So I jot them down. A title: Sometimes They Leave, an opening line: “It was a dark and stormy night…”, or a catchy elevator pitch: Rambo moves in with Sheldon Cooper. Oh, the shenanigans!
Without ideas, there’s no possibility of a creation. Here’s a glimpse into Mr. Einstein’s notebook:
I suspect that many of my ideas won’t go any further than just that, but there is always a chance that I’ll be inspired to revisit one of those ideas and it will become the next greatest—well, maybe just the next story. To quote the philosopher Lloyd Christmas: “So, you’re saying there’s a chance?”
***Addendum Feb. 9
I just had another thought. As a writer, all my ideas have a chance at becoming a story. It’s just that some have a better chance than others. Want to bet on the longshot?
“Three life-long friends discover that they are identical twins during their annual road trip to the Twine and Jute collectors convention in Wichita.”
Sounds like a best seller to me.
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I sommelier once told me, don’t let anyone tell you what you taste. If you taste black cherry, then it has notes of black cherry. He also said that price shouldn’t be a factor. If you like it, it’s a good wine. That’s advice coming from someone whose job it is to sell us on the vineyard’s vintages.
I approach composing in much the same way. If I like the way it sounds, then it’s right. A composition teacher told the class that in order to break the rules, you first must learn them. Thus, began the arduous task of mastering music theory, harmonization, voice leading, etc.
Who made these rules? Every composer before me. The lucky ones were the ones from the beginning. Each composer wrote what sounded right to their ears, and others copied (because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery). As with anything, music evolves. New ideas of what sounds right or wrong are added, and voila, we have Barbara Wharram’s Elementary Rudiments of Music.
There are still things that sound pleasant-or correct-to our ears. That could be because we have become accustomed to the way chords and notes move and interact over hundreds of years. Don’t believe me? Play– or have someone play– this chord sequence: G / / / C / / / D / / /, then stop. For you musicians out there, don’t worry, you can play the tonic chord now, I’m not cruel. For everyone else, it leaves you wanting something else, doesn’t it? Hint, it’s a G.
I learned all the rules. I composed fugues and inventions according to convention. Sound boring? You wouldn’t be completely wrong, sometimes it was. In the 20th century, composers began to rebel against these rules and made their own. Some went toward the minimalist approach, others used math to determine the outcome, and the rest took the forms that they liked and used the notes they wanted.
Let circle back to the sommelier, not because I like wine – I do – but because he was right. Don’t let anyone tell you the music sounds wrong because if that’s how you want it to sound, then it’s right.
Next week: The Beginning of a Composition (or, Where did That Idea Come From?)
I looked around again. The sheer rock cliff on which we were perched stretched as far as I could see in both directions. The ledge we were on was inset slightly and wide enough that I didn’t feel in danger of falling. Moving closer to the edge, I peered down at the water. I looked back at April, “How far down is it?” I asked.
She looked at me and shook her head. “I don’t know exactly. I dropped a rock, and it took about five seconds. I never did the math.”
I did. Well, I attempted to. I tried to remember my physics classes, so long ago. What I did remember was thinking, When am I ever going to use this? To answer my question: now. I thought that five seconds would be about two hundred feet, about the height of a twenty-story building. I peered down again. Yeah, that looks about right.
“About two hundred feet?” I asked her.
“That makes sense,” she said, “and at least that high.” She pointed up.
I looked down again at the cliff face, searching for any marks, any sign of structures, and repeated my investigations upward. I knelt and studied the rock. It was slightly rough, like granite, but not cracked. There was no sign that anyone had climbed up or down it at this spot.
“Do you climb?” I asked.
“I have, but I don’t think that that is an option. I don’t think you could anchor on that,” she said, and I agreed.
I turned my gaze back to April and said, “The only way here is through there—” I pointed back to the tunnel. “Or by … flying?”
“That’s what I figured,” she replied.
“If we got a drone—”
“Tried that,” she interrupted. “Nothing electrical works here.”
“Sorry if I’m annoying you with questions and options. I’m sure you have thought of it all,” I said.
“It’s OK. It’s kind of nice to have someone to share this with.” She looked at me and shrugged. “I don’t know how long I would have kept coming here alone,” she told me.
“Have you seen anything out there?” I gestured to the view.
“No animals, no sign of any life. It’s as if it was abandoned.”
I walked back and forth along the ledge, running my hand over the rock, thinking. “Well, someone may have made this. Any ideas?” I asked.
“I started reading about parallel worlds and universes, ancient alien theories, disappearing civilizations, and stuff like that,” she told me. “I don’t have any solid theories. All I know is that when I’m here, I feel at peace, content—and energized when I leave.”
“Why were you sitting in the dark?” I asked.
“I was on my way out. I heard you come in. I never thought that anyone else would find it.”
“Is there anything in the room?”
“Not that I’ve found, and I’ve gone through it quite thoroughly. It took me a couple of visits to find the tunnel to here.”
I sat down next to her. I didn’t feel uncomfortable on the edge. It felt … natural. “Someone could have constructed it to leave this place for some reason.” I pointed out over the water. “Escaping rising water?”
“Or, bringing people here, perhaps. There may be land out there,” she said.
I pointed up, “Or up there …”
I suddenly realized I had no idea how long we had been there. I looked at my watch: 4:03. The second hand wasn’t moving. That would have been the time that I entered the cave. “We should probably start to head back—not that I want to, but you know how the trail is in the dark,” I said.
She glanced over at me and replied, “I wouldn’t worry about it. We have plenty of time.”
“How long have we been here?” I asked.
“It doesn’t matter. I’ve camped here before, and when I left, it was still the same day. Maybe a few hours had passed,” she told me. “It’s not always consistent, though.”
“This place is quite the conundrum, isn’t it,” I murmured, mostly to myself. It wasn’t a question I was asking or expected an answer to.
We sat there for a while, legs dangling off the edge. The ocean breeze tossed her hair, and there was a faint hint of salt in the air. The sun, much brighter than ours, sank on the horizon, radiating reds and yellows across the sky and making the water shimmer.
“Are you going to tell anyone about this?” she asked.
“No, I don’t think that I will.”
We talked for a while and agreed to meet the next weekend. She would bring the food and camping supplies, while I purchased the climbing gear I didn’t have, plus an inflatable boat from the surplus store. I figured a week’s worth of supplies should be sufficient.
I slept well the first few nights, but after that, my excitement kept me from getting the rest I needed. She beat me to the parking lot, her familiar Not Abandoned note appearing on her dash. I left a note too, just an arrow and the words I’m with stupid. Old joke reference that she probably wouldn’t get, but it made me laugh.
“What took you so long?” she said as I turned that last corner to the lookout.
“I’m old,” I replied, and she smiled and extended her hand to me.
“Nice to meet you, Old; I’m April.”
She might get the joke that I left after all, I thought.
“Ha, ha, ha. Yeah, let’s go before someone comes.”
After the earthquake hit, the largest on record for the area, the park was deemed too hazardous to reopen. The landslide and rushing water obliterated most of the trail system and public access areas. Known to be missing was a senior park ranger. Parts of several vehicles were found downstream from the mountain but could not be identified.
I hope you enjoyed my longest short story. I’d love to hear any comments. If you would like to review the entire collection, let me know. Thanks for reading!
If you still have a few minutes, why don’t you take my short and entertaining survey? Lines by Leon: The Survey It’s just a quick way of getting to know how my readers find me and their reading habits.
Enjoy the rest of your day! If you think anyone else would enjoy my writing, feel free to re-blog any posts.
Last week I gave a challenge to say the alphabet backwards: Fun Friday Need help? Let me know.
What is the funniest answer you ever put on a test? I saw this this example years ago, and it always makes me laugh.
In college, I used to sign my tests with a coffee ring. It started when one time my coffee dribbled down my disposable Styrofoam cup-
Oh, sorry. Let me explain. A long time ago, people used to carry hot beverages in containers made from petroleum, that when properly discarded on the side of the road, would rapidly disintegrate over the course of 1000 years.
Oh! Like the disposable masks and latex gloves?
So, back to the story. My professor commented that he can always spot my tests and assignments from the stain in the corner. I took that as a challenge, and never signed my name again in that class.
Which reminds me of a joke.
A university professor tells the class that time is up for the exam. As students place their papers on the desk as they file out of class, on student continues to write. After a few minutes, the student walks to the front.
“I can’t accept the exam, since you continued after time had expired,” the professor said.
“Do you know my name?” the student asked.
“I can look it up.”
The student promptly slid the paper into the middle of the pile.
OK. Not that funny. Tell me your funniest school experience.
Getting close to being caught up with all “The Miniscules” to date. There will be a few more Wednesdays before you will be getting the current weekly serving of hilarity. Of course, you can always catch Miniscule Monday on Instagram @lines_by_leon
No verse for the creatures this week, just a query.
“Hey, Leon. You often talk about the importance of book reviews. Why don’t you post your reviews?” “I do.” “You do?” “I just said I did, didn’t I?” “I haven’t seen any here.” “I don’t post them here.” “Where are they?” “On my Goodreads page.” “Oh. OK. Where’s that then?” “I just told you.” “Gotcha.”
I usually write something about the books I have read or at least give it a rating. Here are a sampling of some of my favorites. Reviews that is.
I usually read at night. I would be able to read more books if I didn’t keep falling asleep. Zzzzz…
I was thinking the other day (I do that sometimes) how much easier it would have been to be a composer in the early days. For example:
Gregorian chant? You hold that low drone for a while, and then we’ll move up and down this scale I invented. Ohhh, I got an idea! Let’s sing in this cavernous church.
Traveling troubadours? I can use these same three chords. No one has heard them in every country song written yet.
I bet no one said to Bach: “Hey, J.S., I love that tune, but doesn’t it kind of sound like In-A-Gadda- Da-Vida?”
We could have had more or less than 12 tones in western music, but nooo, someone decided to use that division. For you Ancient Alien fans, I think there was a show all about the number twelve. Just sayin’.
Do the math. There are many combintaions you can get with just twelve notes, but ultimately, you are going to write something that will get you sued. Bach then (ha!) everything was new. Oh, I’m sure there was the occasional fugue fight, or arguments on who’s motet that really was, or who was the real father of the symphony (psst–Haydn), but what you wrote was more than likely going to be brand new.
There are times when I am composing that I have to change certain notes because even though they fit and sound exactly how I wanted it to, it reminds me of something else that I’ve heard. You would think that it would happen more often than it does, but I’m sure glad it doesn’t.
The next few Mondays will give some insight into one composer’s process (mine, but you knew that): what I’ve learned, forgotten, ignored, and dismissed. So, you guessed it, sometimes I just wing it.
Last week I posted the first chapter of my short story, The View from Here. In its original form it doesn’t have chapters, so I divided it as equally as possible to create the best suspense. Read the first chapter here:
I hope you like the next installment, and if you would like to read and review the entire collection, let me know.
The pebble seemed to hover there, strangely, a few inches from the cliff face. I pulled it toward me with the branch, and when I had it about two feet away, it finally dropped. My head spun. Did I just really see that? I reached out with the branch and tapped the visible ridge. Then, I moved the branch away from the rock wall and slowly lowered it until … it stopped. There’s something there, preventing the branch from dropping, but I can’t see it. I dragged the tip further outward, and it dropped away, three inches from the wall. I looked around and behind me. I was alone—and freaked out.
I lifted the branch, brought it down hard on the invisible barrier, and it broke. I tried to put the pieces together: footprint on the rail, visible ledge, invisible ledge … three pieces of a five-hundred-piece puzzle. Not much to go on. I still had time before I would need to head back, so I made up my mind to satisfy my curiosity.
I climbed over the rail, holding on tighter than I ever had before. I stretched my left foot out to where the rock was and slowly placed it on the … whatever it was. It felt solid, so I put a bit more weight on it. I took my left hand off the rail and put my fingers into the crack above my head. It was deep enough and had an edge thick enough to feel comfortable. Next was the right hand. I ran my hand along the railing to erase the hand and footprints. If I fall, no one will ever know.
With both hands and feet ready, I moved along the ledge. It seemed to get a bit wider as I inched around the corner. The observation lookout disappeared from my sight as I made my way between the pillar of rock and the cliff face. The space was just wide enough for me to stand sideways, my back to the cliff. There would be no way someone standing on the lookout could see this. To my left, a dark crevasse both beckoned and scared me.
Moving slowly sideways, I squeezed through into the darkness. I expected to feel cold, but there was no change. Suddenly, I was in complete darkness, and I stopped moving. I couldn’t see anything, even when I looked back to where I had come in. I should be able to see light. Did I go blind? Feeling panicky, I moved in the reverse direction and immediately was bathed in sunlight. What the—?
It’s not a pleasant feeling to look down and see yourself as half a body. My right side was on the ledge that I had come in on; the other side, well, I couldn’t see anything—just blackness. I tapped my leg with my left fingertips. I could feel that. I moved my whole body into the light, then took a flashlight out of my pack and turned it on. Pointing it toward the entrance revealed nothing. I mean nothing—no reflection, no penetration. This is so weird, I thought.
Sliding back into the crevasse was the same as before. I found myself in complete darkness. I tapped my flashlight on the palm of my hand, without result. Clicking it on and off proved futile. I stood there, quietly, with my back to the wall. For a brief instant, I thought I heard something.
I listened as carefully as I could. I thought I heard movement or breathing, but the darkness was so heavy that it was difficult to tell if the one producing the sound was me or someone—or something—else. It felt like being in a sensory deprivation tank, where time seems meaningless. Did I stand there for a minute, two, more? I reached around, put my flashlight in my pocket, and snapped it shut.
“Hello?” I said quietly, “Is there someone here?” Nothing. “I know someone is here. I saw your boot print on the railing.”
“Shit.” A female voice came out of the darkness.
“I can hear you, but I can’t tell from where,” I said.
“You are probably pretty freaked out. I know I was,” she answered.
I found myself talking quietly. I don’t know why. “That’s an understatement. Where are we? I can’t see a thing, and my flashlight died.”
“Light doesn’t work in here, and sound travels in an odd way, too.”
I realized that I couldn’t tell if she was near or farther away. “Where are you?”
“Weird, huh?” There was a pause, as if she were trying to decide whether to reveal anything. “I have a spot here where I feel safe. Maybe I’ll tell you, maybe I won’t.” She let out a quiet laugh.
“When did you find this place?”
“About a year ago. I’ve come about ten times. Well, in here, I mean. I’ve come up the trail a lot, but if there are other people, I just turn around.”
“So, you come up here and sit in the darkness?”
She started to laugh. “No, no. There’s a lot more to it.”
I figured it was time to introduce myself. “I’m Thomas, by the way.” I had encroached on her secret, and there was no backing out of this.
“April,” was all she said.
“So …” I tried to choose my words carefully, “it’s not like I’m just going to turn around and leave, and I don’t want to scare you. Do you mind telling me what this place is?”
Again, she let out a laugh, but this time it seemed nervous. “Scare me? You should be the one who is scared. I could leave without you knowing and—” She stopped. “You could get stuck in here.”
“OK, OK, I didn’t mean it as a threat. I just mean, this place seems pretty special, not just for you, but in general. Look. Put yourself in my place. Would you be able to just leave without finding out more?”
I waited for her to respond. “I guess not. It’s just, you know, hard to accept that it’s not my secret anymore.”
“I’m lucky you don’t have a gun. You … don’t have a gun, do you?” There was no answer for far too long.
“No,” she answered finally. “I don’t.”
I thought for a while, trying to craft what to say next.
“So, what do you do here?”
“Well, I started by exploring, mapping in my mind the perimeter of the … room. It’s not really a cave, you know. Feel the wall.” For the first time, I turned and placed my hands on the wall behind me.
“About thirty by thirty, but not square.”
“And what’s in here?” I asked.
“Nothing. It’s what’s out there that is the interesting part.”
I was puzzled. “Out where?”
“One moment, I’ll show you.” I heard some rustling, then a light thump, like cat feet hitting the floor. I stood still, trying to discern where the sound had come from.
“Move to your left along the wall until you come to a bit of a curve,” she said. I did what I was told, slowly, and after about a minute, I felt the wall fall away behind me.
“Get down and keep following,” she directed. I had a moment of panic. Was she tricking me, drawing me into a trap? Why am I just blindly obeying this person? Is it a person?
“I’m not sure about all this. Where are you?”
“Follow me.” I jumped a bit; the voice was right in front of me. “Here, take my hand.” I felt air move in front of my face. I reached out and was relieved to find myself touching a hand, a hand smaller than mine but seemingly strong for its size. “Not much further, “ she said. “It’s worth it.” I sensed her crouching down, and I did the same. As we crawled along, I could feel the space narrowing, but thankfully not to the point where it felt too tight.
“I’m going to go ahead; just follow and watch your eyes,” she told me, and it was suddenly quiet.
I moved forward—and was instantly blinded by sudden brilliance. My arm came up reflexively to cover my eyes, and I raked my hand along the wall. “Ouch!” I yelled and put my head down with my arms over it. I heard her giggle.
“I warned you,” she said, still laughing.
I opened my eyes, and through the small space between my uplifted arms I could see a ledge ahead of me. Behind me was blackness, just like the place where I had entered.
“Just move ahead a bit, or you’ll hit your head when you get up,” I heard her say. I crawled forward and began to sit up.
Sitting on the ledge was a woman with shoulder-length brown hair in a ponytail, hiking shorts and a t-shirt, her bare feet dangling over the edge. She looked to be in her early thirties, maybe younger—I could tell she was fit. She looked over and smiled. “Here we are,” she said as she flung her arms wide to indicate the openness.
We were on a ledge on the sheer face of a cliff. I couldn’t tell how high it went, and below, I could just make out water, gently lapping along the base of the cliff. There was water as far as I could see—except, I thought, for a patch of darkness on the horizon. The sky had a few long wispy clouds, but was mostly … not blue. It had a violet hue to it. There were no shadows from the cliff, and I couldn’t tell where the sun (a sun?) was.
Apparently the look on my face said it all. April looked at me and said, “Wow, huh?”
I was speechless.
(Tune in next Sunday for the exciting conclusion!)