Research

I have something of a love/hate relationship with the word “research”. On one hand, it can be quite thrilling to pull on the thread of a question into discovery and knowledge. On the other, it can be tedious, frustrating, and downright difficult. Research is a necessary part of writing, though, no matter what you’re writing about. We could go down the road of ethics and research, but I’ll save that for another time. Just suffice it to say, I am not a fan of cherry-picking.

It’s a running joke with some of my writer friends and me to compare the often hilarious and random things we’ve Googled in the name of research. In the age of data mining and internet surveillance, I’m just glad I have written proof of why I look up the things I do…like…data mining and internet surveillance.

Sometimes it’s in the process of pulling the thread that ignites inspiration. An answer to one question leads you to another you weren’t aware of before. And sometimes there isn’t answer readily available. That’s most frustrating when you feel like it’s because you’re not asking the right question. Then there’s the balance of what is worth pulling at, and what’s only serving as a distraction so don’t actually have to write.

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I’m working on a project in the realm of post-apocalyptic and I wanted to know how long the power grid would work without someone running it. I don’t know how that process works. Not a bit. How much is automated, how much requires that someone push a button, how often does that button needs to be pushed? I know I could run after the answers, but ultimately, for my story, I just needed an endpoint for the power. Texas has crazy weather, an entire tornado season. Residents are quite used to various power outages. The quiet heroes that rush out to handle repairs after a storm would get their belated appreciation if they were suddenly not around to fix things up again. Problem solved, research rabbit hole averted.

Other things are important enough to get nitty gritty with. For the same story, I’ve looked at how to siphon gas, and learned that most modern cars are incredibly tricky to collect from. But I understand the mechanics of how it would need to be done. I also know the most efficient way to butcher a chicken, if you’re green to animal husbandry and still want a degree of separation from what you’re doing. Yes, it’s still gross.

It’s important to know these things in detail because it lends authenticity to the story. One could argue that most readers wouldn’t know the difference, but I don’t think that gives your readers enough credit. I couldn’t explain half of the things Mark Watney pulls off in The Martian, but it was perfectly clear to me that the author, Andy Weir, knew what he was talking about. Without the research, his novel would easily have fallen flat. Shortcuts and loopholes are not the way to gain the trust of your audience.

What I’m getting at, is while research might not be the most glamorous part of creating, it’s still an irremovable part of good writing. The senses come alive when the details are true. The inner turmoil of battling your domesticity, years of buying fully clean and butchered meats from a refrigerated cooler at an air-conditioned grocery store, to feed your starving belly, to confront the death required for life — well, it doesn’t become real to the reader or the writer until you can smell the animal, hear it’s cry, feel the strain of muscle as a life is swiftly ended. It’s not always pretty, in fact, it rarely is. Life is messy, and good research aids in capturing the raw realness of it.

The magic happens when you can turn the facts and figures into movements and emotions. When you know how to butcher that chicken, but also how the character lives through it. You know the words she whispers over and over to talk herself into it. You know if she cried during the act, if she waited until she was poised to take her first bite of the bounty, or if she displaced the act entirely and never shed a tear.

Even the most apt writers of emotion and conflict have nothing to react to without the details of circumstance. The children of research and the fodder for creation, it’s all in the details.

I’ll end today by saying that I’ve no clue if any of this is interesting to you. It fascinates me. I could talk about all the tiny little bits of writing all the livelong day. So much of what I share here isn’t profound or even far beyond common sense, but I guess, if nothing else, it’s my perspective. It’s what makes me tick. It is a catalog of all the things I found engaging enough to comment on. So there.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find out how a generator runs and what can go wrong with one.

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Love: A Favorite Word

We are nearing Valentine’s Day, and while the current traditions of this holiday may be a topic of contention, I choose to celebrate the day in honor of love. Not solely romantic love, but the existence of it in all its many incarnations. It also happens to be a favorite word of mine. It’s a simple word at first glance – just four little letters, after all – but it’s a favorite because it can trigger endless pondering. Like “God”, “universe”, or “soul” it is a word that is exquisitely simple and infinitely intricate. It all depends on how you use it and what it means to you.

I wouldn’t say love is something to be feared, but just like the depths of an ocean or the great height of a mountain, love is something to be respected. You can welcome it for its beauty, for its healing, you can even prop it up against you to crutch through difficult days, but always it must be respected for the power it holds.

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Love holds power that I don’t believe humans can fully comprehend. Just as we know that we have not even come close to identifying all of the organisms in the waters of our earth, we have only begun to catalog and inventory the true purpose and potential of love. Simply put, it’s a word we take for granted. We profess our love for paint colors, coffee cups, and the shoes on our feet. Slightly deeper, we might announce our adoration for a film that particularly moved us to laughter or tears, a song that rippled chill bumps up our arms, even a book that put words to our deepest secrets and a name to our greatest fears.

 

I imagine levels of love to move down as they grow, rather than rising to new heights. To me, the greater the love, the deeper it has burrowed into our souls. Simple love is the bloom on a spindly branch of a tree, momentary but yielding easy appreciation. The deepest of love grows, reaching into the rich earth as roots supplying all nourishment a soul might need.

The love you feel for a partner, for your child, for your family – these all stand solidly in the trunk of the tree. They are foundational loves. They are the loves that you draw strength from when life rattles you. They are the loves that we are most concerned with, the loves we most desperately fear to lose. We agonize over it. For without our trunks, how can the blossoms bloom? How can the roots forage? Death or dissolution of these loves can cease and seize the life from flowing within us if we let it. These sorts are strong and can stir passions, achievement, even heroics, but they still allow the side effects of the earthy human experience. Jealousy, expectation, disappointment. I don’t wish to cast a shadow on them, as I feel them deeply myself, but I acknowledge the fragility of them. While they may not ever break, they can chip and fray with hurt feelings and things left unsaid.  

So what are the roots, you ask. The roots of love are made of the oldest and most ancient of loves. Unconditional. “But I love my children unconditionally!” My husband, my wife, my mother, my father, sister, brother, and on we go. Yes. Yes, of course, you do. But truly unconditional love does not stop with the name or title of one person. Or even many people. Unconditional love, the kind that burrows deep into the very nature of humanity, the very gift of consciousness we have achieved as human beings, is the love of all people without requirement or design. Understanding is not required. Introductions, not required. Sameness, common history, belief, morals, anything at all. The roots of love, as I see it, are for growing past what we can see and easily comprehend, and accepting the sustenance of that power without question.

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At the heart of unconditional love, is the love of self. It is in recognizing that every word misspoke or intentionally aimed, every judgment reflected, every dimple, wrinkle, or scar – they are all perfect. Even in our worst moments, there is purpose. Purpose sprouts from the acknowledgment of, “Yes, I can grow from this.” Loving yourself isn’t conceit, it isn’t prideful, and it is not undeserved. Celebrate that this week. Yes, I’m being bossy-britches about this, but please. Celebrate love unconditionally for what you know of it, what you haven’t yet discovered, for what you feel for others, and what you should feel for yourself.

I love you — now get back to your roots.

Edify

There’s nothing like the perfect word. The number of times I’ve delayed conversations because the word I’m racking my brain for is playing hard to get…countless. To someone who tries her hardest to take the time to articulate exactly what she means, it feels incredible to finally close your figurative fingers around it. Like itching a scratch you’ve been contorting yourself to reach.

A Thesaurus is a fantastic tool to combat this annoyance, but it’s one to use with care. We’ve all heard stories, or *cough* lived them, where people got so carried away with synonyms that their finished product was barely understandable.

For example, has anyone seen this scene from Friends?

But, Kelsey! Don’t you use a Thesaurus?! All the damn time! However, I mostly employ it as a search engine for my brain. I run to the Thesaurus when a word is on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t remember quite what it is. Sure, I could use a replacement, but it would likely fail to convey exactly what I’m intending.

I also use it when I can’t find a word that feels just right. As I’ve mentioned, words have nuance, and when I find the words I already know aren’t adequately providing the feeling or understanding I’m going for I go learn some new words! I read through a variety of synonyms that are close but not quite right until one is. I’ve then expanded my vocabulary AND imparted exactly what I want to my reader.

Today, I want to talk about the word “edify”. Wait! Don’t look it up yet. I’m getting there.

If you learn something new, you are educated on it. If you teach something new, you are educating someone. Facts, figures, languages, grammar, rules, etc. — these all fall under education. But what would you call it if you learned something on an emotional level? A moral level? A spiritual level?

The Merriam-Webster definition of edify is: to instruct and improve especially in moral and religious knowledge : uplift; also : enlighten, inform.

Doesn’t that fit the bill? I first heard this word being used to define art. This person’s argument was that art isn’t something you just see, hear, read, or taste, it’s something that educates your soul. Art is edifying.

Most of the pains and struggles of life are edifying. They help us reach a deeper understanding of self. A good book can be edifying. A play can be edifying. Anything at all that makes you stop and go, “Huh.” A small door in the catacombs of your brain has opened to reveal something you weren’t aware was there. An understanding, a compassion, a relatability, a connection.

Education is a horse led to water. Edification is the horse taking a drink. Education is memorizing vocabulary words. Edification is learning the depth of meaning beyond the typed definition beside them. Education is fact. Edification is feeling. These are my interpretations, of course, but they are also the reasons I love this word so very much.

Education and edification are equally important, but serve different roles in our world. They are each other’s compliment. They balance and weave together to form more complete understanding and appreciation of whatever they encounter. Two very different creatures living in harmony and promoting the harmony of their users.

I ask that you take a moment to reflect on how they might be working together in your life. And if you find you can’t think of something that’d edified you recently, seek something out. It’s good for the soul.

Until next time.

Effervescence

A word is just a word, you say. It sits prettily on a page, meaning nothing until read, and then it delivers a message before falling back into silent passivity, waiting for its turn to come round again. It is black lines on white plains, printed footprints of where the writer’s mind has wandered. But still, just lines. Simple. Unassuming. Certainly, nothing to fuss over. Just words…right?

I see them as so much more. Like a photographic negative, you can hold them up in front of you and there’s a picture there, but it’s vague. You can only make out enough from the shadows and lines to know what the object of the picture is. But, when you set it on a lit table, suddenly the details burst forth. There is color, fine shades of distinction, a luminescence that brings the object to life. Some words have a  life like this all on their own. Their mere existence holds power that lights feeling without effort. However, words come to life differently from person to person. Words often have a history with the reader. They’ve often met before, but the circumstances of their first rendezvous can change entirely the relationship between word and reader.

This entry is the beginning of a microscopic look into that relationship. I’ll share words I love, words I avoid, and why they sing for me the way they do. Remember, communication is key and words are layered with meaning beyond their definition.

And so, to begin. A little fun with — effervescence.

Like bubbles? I can hear you asking. Yes, but wait! There’s more. But isn’t it interesting that that’s where your mind went first? Just by reading the word, I can feel the tickle of it on my tongue even though the word has only visited my mind. I can imagine the small bubbles of a favorite cool drink and the bright and refreshing quality of them, but that is only one use of this cheerful word.

Just as the word dances, so does the soul of the person who holds the trait. Their energy is light and airy, enthusiastic and bold in a joyful sort of way. They are the people who smile with ease and laugh with an honest appreciation for all the silly and wonderful things the world offers.

It is a child bounding through a door to greet a parent long awaited, the anticipation and excitement having built over many hours spent peeking out the window, fogging the glass with quick, warm breaths.

It is a young woman sipping champagne with friends as they admire the future displayed on her finger. She is happy in a way that cannot seem to be contained by her body and she begins those smile lines in earnest as she talks and listens and talks some more, eye on her giddy horizon.

It is the receiver of good news anticipated, but not banked upon. The electricity of gratitude and hope for what it means is running through their body, and the feelings threaten to bubble over in laughter for it must go somewhere.

In all these painted pictures, you can feel the glow and liveliness of these people. Their effervescence. The magic of a word and the images and feeling it can induce…it’s beautiful. And whether a soulful resonance or an intricate firing of synapses are to blame, I certainly enjoy the experience. Maybe you’ll start your own little list of words that spark more, and, if you do, please share them with me. ❤

I hope you and yours have a beautiful holiday season filled with love, family, and friends.

Much love,

Kelsey