Titles, Facades, and Trivialities

Searching for inspiration today,  I turned to The Daily Post for today’s prompt: facade. Then I turned to a poem I had begun a month or so ago,  and kept working at it.  I’m not sure it’s  finished yet though.  For one thing,  I’m having trouble deciding on a title.  Some options are the following: Awe, Facade, Consumption, Occupy Us,  Trivialities, Reality.

Titles are like the facades of our writing. They are the first thing people see. The first words on which our efforts are judged. They set a tone and convey a message. They are the headlines in our blog feeds. Some are enigmatic; others are direct. Some are symbolic; others are metaphoric. I’ve think most writers would agree that we take them seriously. We angst over them. Sometimes they come easily; other times, like today, they are difficult to come by.

Yet what is funny is that I often have to remind my students to read the title of the pieces we read and study, especially the poetry. They want to dive right in–and finish as quickly as possible– so they miss the point in their rush. And then I ask, “What’s the title?” “Oh! Ah!” And as the saying goes, light dawns over Marblehead. Titles are important.

Here is the poem, as yet untitled:

Sometimes,  I am in awe

Of the trivialities

That occupy us. Yet sure,

These become realities

Of our passions and our

Lives,  distracting us day by

Day and even hour by hour.

We let things of import fly by

Without a glance or a

Thought.  We allow all of

This minutia to pour

Down and be things that move

Us in a frenzy. We

Permit the little things

To be what others see,

Pretend to live like kings

Over kingdoms of silly

Inconsequential points

When we should mount hilly

Fields, weighty with data points,

Converse, debate,  and try

To find meaningful depths instead of

Sugary facades of tantalizing

Gossip, name-calling, and clever memes.


If time is a human construct,
Why haven’t we learned how to make it
Slow down.

A propos to the above,  I started this post a few weeks ago,  and then time got away from me. Those of us with creative minds often find find those minds teeming with ideas. A writer may overhear a snippet of a conversation from which she extrapolates and creates a whole new world,  if she can get pen to paper in time before the words and the world vanish in a fog of mundanity.  Or, she may be creating that world when a picture or a view,  a “Certain Slant of Light,” steals her attention and imagination.  Writers have long carried notebooks to record these flashes of intuition, though today they may be phones or tablets. She can preserve the moment,  return to the world she was creating before this second one came vying for her attention,  and revisit it later.  A beautiful idea,  that I know many,  if not most,  of us employ.  Yet,  when those notebooks fill up, how do you choose which visit from the Muse best deserves your time?

For those of us with multifaceted creativity,  the problem increases exponentially.  Do I devote my time to that drawing/painting that calls to me?  Or do I develop that story that keeps rattling around my brain?  Perhaps instead I will crochet with that luscious yarn I could not help buying.  And then there’s that fabric yearning to be made into. ..something.

The world lately is all about multitasking, yet study after study proves it to be ineffective. We are not hard wired to try to do too many things at once; one at a time is much more effective. I know this is true from my own work and play. When I focus on one task, it is completed well and I feel a sense of accomplishment, but when I jump from task to task, I feel scattered and my tasks are either half done or not done as well as they could be . So why do we still jump from task to task? Perhaps it is this computer age we live in. With so many tabs open in our browsers, our eyes are tantalized by the other places we could go, the other things we could be doing. And let’s face it, even with our chosen work or hobby, there are onerous bits that we would rather not do. At other times, our creativity just bubbles over, seemingly uncontainable, each new idea brighter than the last. And this is good. In fact, children are taught from a young age to brainstorm, to get the most out of their creativity. Brainstorming is a good idea. Those ideas that lie beneath the surface, beyond the obvious are what lead to genius.

Eventually, though, we need to stop brainstorming and start writing (or painting, crocheting, sewing…). Perhaps this is when play begins to feel too much like work, so we jump to the next big idea without having hashed out the details of this one yet. And time seems to fly before anything is finished.

That work though, those details, they lead to the fulfillment of the promises of our creativity and to the greatest sense of achievement and accomplishment. The idea of a poem is at first exciting, but the actual poem is delicious and exhilarating –a tangible thing we can call our own.

And how do we decide which path to follow first? We dive in. We read through our notes, choose what is speaking to us now and go. Perhaps another will pan out another day. Perhaps not, but if we spend too much time trying to decide where to start, we will never begin. So shut down those other tabs, give yourself time and space, and focus. It takes practice, but the results are worth it.

We just need to remember that we cannot live in the storm. We ride it out, clean up the debris, and rebuild a better world.


A Rose by Any Other Name…

Recently,  my husband and I went to a local animal shelter to adopt a cat.  Leo, my feline love,  has recently passed away,  and while we were (and are) still grieving,  we missed having a cat presence in the apartment.  We still love our lost Leo, but we knew we have enough love in our hearts to welcome another shelter cat into our home.

Before we left,  I took a quick look online to just get an idea of the cats available. I wanted to meet the cat in person before we brought one home,  but it’s still fun to look. And I noticed two things: there are an awful lot of black cats in the shelter, and many shelter cats have crazy names. It is this latter point I wish to address today. I told my husband that if the cat which chooses us has a crazy name, we’re going to have to change it. I’m not gong to call out “Hey Chizzy Chaz, I’m home” for the next 15 years.

So off we go, and after some time we are chosen by a ginger tabby, a marmalade some say, of considerable heft named Lionel.  Rich asks me,  “Are we going to keep his name?” “Lionel,” I think. “That’s pretty normal. I can deal with it.”  “Sure, ” I say.

Now take a moment and think before you read on.  What is your first association with the name Lionel?

Then, I turn to the solid mass of fur purring next to me and sing, “Hello, is it me you’re looking for?” It certainly seemed appropriate for the situation and indicates my first association with the name Lionel. Lionel looked up and kept purring.

After bringing Lionel home,  I called my mother to tell her about her new grand-cat, and her response is “Is his last name Hardcastle?” You see,  she is a fan of the BBC series As Time Goes By, and Jeffery Palmer’s character is Lionel Hardcastle. So, Lionel will now be called Mr. Hardcastle by his Nana.

Next,  I went on Facebook to announce the arrival of the newest denizen of our apartment. Along with the many congratulations and exclamations of how cute he is,  there were a few more Lionel associations.  One friend asked if he likes train–ah,  yes, Lionel trains,  THE standard of toy  trains. Another noted that like his predecessor,  he bears a leonine name–seems like a tradition forming here.   A couple of friends referenced Lion-O from the ThunderCats–not a bad allusion, but there is no way my Lionel will wear a blue leotard! So many associations from a limited group of people.

This got me thinking.  What would come up if I googled his name? Most of the first page of results are links about Lionel trains, then Lionel Ritchie does show up as well as soccer player Lionel Messi (at least he’s not the biter). Then,  I clicked the related searches tab for “Lionel name.” Here were the sites related to the meaning of names.  To no one’s surprise,  Lionel means either little or young lion. It is from the French, the Latin, and the Greek. Every culture seems to have a little lion in it!  In Arthurian legend,  Lionel is Lancelot’s cousin. (I feel like I should have known that.) Interestingly,  according to one site,  people with this name have a deep inner desire for love and companionship.  I hope that proves true for cats too.

Every year, I have my students research the meaning of their names and ask their parents why they choose the name they did.  Then we examine the names of the characters in the novels and stories we read.  Often,  these names are indicative of the character’s personality or circumstance or cultural heritage. And unlike parents who cannot know their child’s likes and dislikes when they name him/her,  we writers know our characters intimately before we publish. We must choose those names with care so that our readers can see them as we do. Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre seems stony when we first meet him as his rocky name would lead us to believe, and Jane describes herself as plain. In Gabrielle Zevin’s novel All These Things I’ve Done, the teenage boy who is a bit of a, let’s say jerk, has the last name of Ardsley. You know what you’re hearing there, right? That’s purposeful. And the good guy is named Goodwin who goes by Win. Yes, we know who to root for. Which association do you as a writer hope to conjure up in your reader when you name your character?

And sometimes, we writers may find it necessary to rename our characters as we move through our drafts. We get to know them better as we create their worlds and see them move around in them. Sometimes a name change clinches together pieces of his/her character that had seemed tenuously connected. And  sometimes, the chosen name is too real. I once named a minor character Steve Stricker. I liked the alliteration and the strength of the name, both of which fit his position in the story. Then, one day my husband and I were watching golf, and there he was! Steve Stricker is a real person, a pro golfer! I had to make a change so that people who know golf weren’t bringing their associations of the real person to my story.

Where does this leave us on Lionel’s name? He seems to respond to it,  and I’m just trying to not call him Leo.That’s a fifteen year habit that is hard to break, especially with both names beginning with L. But, I think in time he’ll live up to the little lion that he is, and I hope he’ll continue to exhibit his desire for camaraderie.

What association do you have with the name Lionel? What characters have you named for a specific reason? Have you ever had to change a character’s name? Why? Join in the conversation below.

A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but it will not create the same response from the reader if you call it an Eastern skunk cabbage.