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“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”


Skirmishing Words

The blog of Lynn G. Carlson

These blog posts are me paying attention – to life, to writing, to whatever topic waggles at me. You’ll find that as a rule I’m irreverently respectful and am constantly digging into language crannies, looking for inspiration.


I’m always glad to hear from you, too. As you pay attention to our glorious, goofy, comedy-stacked-on-tragedy-layered-with-boredom lives.

Keep in mind, I’m more Carhartt than Cartier, so don’t expect anything too polished. But I promise not to posture and to do my best to stay authentic. You should call me on it if I get too big for my britches.

Afore-mentioned grandnephew, long time ago, sending me cryptic signals. Never did figure it out...

My grandnephew, age 13, was twitchy in the passenger seat—all wound up from attending a session of the 4-H robotics program my sister and I enrolled him in this fall. He was going on and on about what was involved in building and coding a Lego robot.

Then he said in an excited, but also slightly panicky voice, “I don’t know how to do this.”

“Of course, you don’t know how,” I said. “You’ve never done it before.”

This exchange reminded me that as a rule most of us are really lousy at letting ourselves be beginners.

But he’s a kid, so of course he’s a beginner at a lot of things.

Those of us who are adults (or a-dolts as husband and I like to say), with all our knowledge and experience, well, are we ever really beginners?

Yeah, actually, we are. We just don’t like to admit it.

All that is required is the humility to be a beginner.
     -Julia Cameron


I started creative writing at the ripe age of 49. I’d written plenty in my jobs, volunteer activities, etc. But I decided to take up creative writing—essays, creative nonfiction, poetry, and fiction.

I made a pact with myself at the time--even wrote it down:

I am a beginning writer. As such, I will be self-conscious and awkward. There will be times when my writing resembles literary acne. I’ll trip up the stairs of story and make a lot of questionable decisions.

I figure it’s all part of growing up as a writer.

Now, I’m 67 and I have been writing creatively all that time. That means I’m a grown-up writer now, right?

Only I’m entering a new phase. I have a novel manuscript that I've been working on for the last four years. I printed it off and after a short hiatus (to let the story clear from my brain a bit) the task of revising the manuscript will begin.

I’ve never done this before. When it comes to revision of long-form fiction, I am a beginner.

Damn. Have I mentioned that I don’t like being a beginner? That I’ve never liked it?

Testing football helmets. Know the feeling?

When I was in the Peace Corps in Mali, West Africa, I was required to learn two languages: French and Bambara. During the three months of pre-service training, we had what was called immersion, which meant that right after breakfast and until dinner was served, we weren’t allowed to speak English. This forced us to practice our new language skills.

Basically, I was mute during immersion, except for the minimum amount of speaking required in class. I zipped my lip so I wouldn’t sound like an idiot.

The staff was worried about me. One trainer (Seth, I think it was) said something that stuck with me. “You have to be okay with sounding like a three-year-old in the beginning. It’s tough on your pride, but it’s the only way you’ll learn.”

I did better once I got to my village. It helps when your survival depends on spitting out something.

I made a lot of mistakes, like the time I was explaining to my friend Hawa, in my halting Bambara, that we have a saying in English: I stuck my foot in my mouth. Only I got the word for foot wrong. I said “sin” when I should have said “sen.”

The resulting phrase was: I stuck my breast in my mouth.

Yeah. I did that. You should have seen her face.

But I learned, tripping and falling all the way. And what’s a few feet in the mouth anyway?

We are always afraid to start something that we want to make very good, true and serious.
-        Brenda Ueland

In my writing group, the Coddiwomple Crew, new members struggle to read their writing out loud. There are usually lots of disclaimers: I don’t really know where this is going… it’s not very good… bear with me. That sort of thing. We always tell them that it’s not necessary, but they do it anyway.

Eventually they get over that and just read what they’ve got.

Fortunately I have my musecat to help with the revision project...


All of this to remind myself that when it comes to revising a novel:

  • I’ve never done this before.

  • I’ll make mistakes but nobody will die (except maybe in the story).

  • It's better if you just dive in.

And in the immortal words of Bob Ross:

As long as you’re learning, you’re not failing.





post by Lynn

My dog Sammy, God rest his soul, used to love to sniff my head and snuffle through my hair. When he finished, he always gave me one of those silly grins that labs are famous for.

Why did he love to sniff my head?

Hell if I know.

Why do any of us love what we love? I only know I was always glad to see Sammy happy, so I let him sniff away.

Which brings me to today’s topic:


If you are casting about for something to spark your creativity, as I always am, I suggest you give serious consideration to your delights.

Quite often, we creatives are elbowed into focusing on our pain, fears, regrets, and secrets. All well and good, and there is much to be had there. But don’t forget that there is treasure, too, in the things that glow in your life.


“The world is mud-luscious,”
- e.e. cummings.

Oooh, I think e.e. delighted in mud, don't you?

So, what delights you?

I am not talking about what you’re passionate about. Delight is different than passion. Less demanding, in my mind. I’m not talking about what makes you laugh either, although you may sometimes laugh in delight.

Delight is a very specific emotion. For me, it’s when something catches my attention and I simply stand, look, and smile. Or it’s when I notice that I’d really like to just hang out in a particular moment for a good, long time.

A few years ago, I started a Delights journal. The impulse came when I read this quote:

“I put in my pictures everything I like."

- Pablo Picasso

Hey--if it’s good enough for Picasso, it’s good enough for me.


It dawned on me that it might be fruitful to take note of things that spark delight in me. I selected a small notebook and started taping onto the pages images of (and written notes on) things I could honestly say delight me.

A sampling of what has made its way into this notebook:

  • Photo of a highway: open road, blue Wyoming sky overhead. It’s a very specific shade of blue, one that I miss whenever I am outside of my home state. I think it has something to do with almost total lack of moisture in the air 😊.

  • Image cut from a dog calendar: a hot, panting retriever with his belly on a cool spot.

  • Notation: a camping ritual – the comforting sensation of a steaming hot washcloth on my face just before bed.

  • Photo: of my grandnephew at age 5 or 6. It was his first mutton-busting competition and I delight in the set of his small shoulders as he concentrates on the upcoming challenge.

  • Image: clipped from an old copy of Wyoming Wildlife magazine, of a pika with a mouthful of grass. I mean, who can resist pikas?!

  • Notation: I heard a guy say, "I’m flustrated" – I don’t think he meant to coin a new term, but I think it’s, well, delightful and descriptive.

  • Notation: the feeling I get when my dog Luna is sleeping, and I tickle the hair between her paws until she kicks. Not sure I should admit that I take delight in pestering my dog this way, but I guess I have to own it, don’t I?

  • Photo: one Husband took at Curt Gowdy State Park (see above) where water reflects stone and pine, creating a disorienting and eye-delighting image.

  • Notation: watching the ducks at Mylar Park. There are few things more smile-inducing to me than a duck’s waddle or an upturned duck butt.

  • Photo (below): one I took at a gallery in Boulder, Colorado. I was fascinated by the installation, but delighted by the shadow it created on the wood floor.

My delights have found their way into my writing on occasion--as in a blog post, titled Whale Watching, where I riffled through my memory files and extracted a scene from a delightful adventure:

You turn in that direction just as a fountain of water spatters the surface of the sea. Then the maw of a blue whale rises up out of the liquid floor, followed by the massive barnacled slide of a whale body. Then the tail, etched with white scars, flips way up into the air and back down, slamming the surface.

A curtain of water splashes the crowd on the boat. Everybody laughs and applauds (as if the whale were performing a stunt). You giggle with your friends as you wipe the salty water from your face.

I know I’m not the only one who pays attention to my delights. I find evidence everywhere of it in the things I read:

Like Wyoming poet Pat Frolander, delighting in food (and making my mouth water):

Coffee burbles, potatoes steam, fresh bread awaits the knife, roast beef braises, brown gravy simmers.*

Or when Nebraska state poet Matt Mason delights in the memory of the submarine ride in Disneyland, (Ah, yes, Disneyland. I know it well. Can we go back there now?)

where it was…

as if you had

all gone under the waves and down

to Atlantis’ cracked pillars,

mermaids waving, undersea volcanoes. **


Sometimes I find it helps to have permission to do things, so...

By the power vested in me by absolutely no one, I hereby grant you permission to pay close attention to your delights.

In whatever fashion works for you, collect the evidence. Then see where it leads you.

If you write fiction, one of your delights might attach itself to your main character. Many fine works of art leak out of the artist’s delight in a particular scene or image.


How about penning a Five Delights song?


A gustatory masterpiece might develop from one of your taste delights.

So many options!

It sure can’t hurt to focus on your delights, and it might very well help.

“What you focus on grows, what you think about expands, and what you dwell upon determines your destiny.”
– Robin Sharma

* From “Second Table” by Pat Frolander, published in Married Into It, Glendo, Wyo.: High Plains Press 2011.

** From “Ode to Submarine Voyage (1959 – 1998)” by Matt Mason, published in At the Corner of Fantasy and Main: Disneyland, Midlife and Churros, Old Mill Press, 2022

Toponymy is the study of place names. A toponymist is someone who studies the science and origins of place-names. If you think all that sounds dry as sawdust, I beg to differ.

Because of one little book, I find toponymy fascinating and full of things to think and write about.

“The romance of Wyoming is included in the names of its rivers and mountains, in the titles of its cities and counties…”

So says Mae Urbanek in the preface of her book, Wyoming Place Names (copyright 1967).

Mae wrote many books (poetry, fiction and what she called “historical prose”) at her ranch in my home county of Niobrara. She died in 1995. When I was growing up, I’d hear my father talk about Mae but I always misunderstood the name. I thought he was saying “Mayor Banek” and so I had the notion that this person ran the town of Lusk.

But I digress…

Wyoming Place Names is a book I sit with often. It has a simple format: place names, in alphabetical order, followed by the county, and then whatever Mae could dig up on the origin of the name. She threw in stories attached to the place whenever she found them.

There’s history in those names, to be sure, but much, much more. There’s…


Bad Medicine Butte. Fremont. Named by the Shoshone because of the unexplained death of one of their scouts who climbed the butte to scan for enemies. They found him there, dead, with his face on his folded arms.


Ishawooa Mesa, in Park County. A Shoshone name meaning “lying warm.” (Can’t you just imagine someone stretched out on the mesa in, say, April, letting the wind pass over, sponging up sun and naming this place by how it made them feel after a long Wyoming winter?)


Fourlog Park, Albany. A prospector started a cabin here in the 1870’s, and quit after he had laid up four logs.


Meadow Creek, Natrona. Homesteaders of 1890s thought this a beautiful meadow in which to live. When a big flood in August 1895 struck the tents in which the people lived, they hurried to grab quilts, and get to higher ground. Mrs. Nuby and her three children drowned. Their bodies were caught in piles of driftwood.


Bosom Peak, Fremont. Named for its resemblance to the female figure when seen from Dinwoody area. (No doubt some guy had gone for a very long time without female companionship.)


Drizzlepuss, Teton. A pinnacle where it always seems to rain or hail when a climbing party was taken there by Exum Mountaineering School.


Dead Man Creek, Albany/Carbon. Named about 1868, when the body of Jack Hockins was found buried in the gravel of creek bed. Hockins had assaulted and killed a girl in the east. His body was found after the brother of the dead girl learned where Hockins lived on this ranch.

I notice that some place names have stories attached to them that smack of a certain…


Big Warm Springs Creek, Fremont County. When President Chester A. Arthur, with a military guard… traveled this valley in 1883, they tried to camp on Clark’s place near the mouth of DuNoir creek. Clark ordered them off. General Sheridan called him down saying, “This is the President of the United States.” Clark answered, “I don’t care what he is president of, he’s camping on my property without permission. I want him off.” Camp was moved.

YEAH, WHATEVER attitude:

Dutch Creek, Sheridan. First called Hungarian Creek for a Hungarian who homesteaded there. Word was too long for settlers who shortened it to “Dutch.”

Wyoming Place Names is full of barely-hinted-at tales and half-forgotten voices—so many stories it makes me itch.

Saying that I am a toponymist who studies these place names is a major stretch. It’s more like I use them to catapult my imagination into new territory. Sometimes they serve as writing prompts that lead me into the thicket of story.

So, thanks, Mae Urbanek. I’m grateful you weren’t the mayor of Lusk and had the time and inclination to gather all this information so I could go tripping through the toponymy of our Wyoming.

Note: Words in italics were taken from Wyoming Place Names, by Mae Urbanek.

One last thing. If you’re a writer or artist, here are two prompts inspired by Wyoming Place Names. Maybe one of them will inspire a story, poem, or sketch:

Cache Mountain, Yellowstone Park. Takes the name from creek where Indians surprised prospectors, and stole their horses, except two mules; men had to “cache” what mules could not pack.

Depict, in words or image, a scene where three of the prospectors return to dig up the cache. What do they find?


Nightcap Bay, Teton. A small bay in Jackson Lake named by John D. Sargent, pioneer of 1887: brilliant and erratic, he claimed the bay was visited by an apparition—a man in a boat which appeared at midnight on a certain night each year.

It’s 2023. You discovered some old journals that reportedly were written by Sargent. One enigmatic entry says “Jackson Lake: October 13, 12:01 am. Three years in a row.” Your friend makes you a $100 bet that no ghost will appear. You take it. You and your friend push the boat away from shore at 11:30 pm on October 12th. What happens?

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