Friday, June 29, 2007
I did it! The book that I wrote the first draft to the end has now been revised to the end and is now in the hands of my trusty critique partners, which means it now is . . . crap?
Yup, that’s right. As soon as I started re-reading it the last time, after all the revisions, I kept thinking ‘this stinks.’ I know it doesn’t, really, but it always seems to at this point. And, whenever I hand off anything to anyone else, I fear they’ll think it stinks, too.
It usually doesn’t, thank goodness. But what insecurity is there in me (and in many of us writer, in all of us people) that makes me think so?
If I give it a couple of months, I can usually go back and reread pages and enjoy them. But not during final revisions, when I’ve read and re-read and re-read and . . . well, you get the drift . . . until I can no longer bear to read any more. And then I push and keep reading because it’s time for this baby to be born and to come out into the world. But what an ugly baby!
Now I’ve already jumped on the partially completed book and hope to finish it as quickly as the last one, and I’m so excited about it. The story is wonderful. The pages I’ve already read are clever, funny, compelling, touching, and have me thinking, ‘This is great!’ But I have no illusions; this book, too, shall stinketh in final revisions.
I read a quote years ago (wish I could remember who originally said it) that confidence was given as a consolation prize to writers with less talent, but that those with talent continually had to struggle with insecurities. I guess. But what if I had talent AND confidence? Wouldn’t that be cool? Oh, well, if I have to choose between the two, I guess I would prefer talent. Let’s all take a moment and thank God for our talent. I do.
That brings me round (yes, this blog and my mind are just wandering along a random path, I can now see) to the parable of the talents. During the past fourteen years as I have written and learned and struggled and despaired and written and revised and written some more, I have felt, several times, that my talent has been increased. And I have also felt that it was because I kept on writing and learning and revising and writing that it happened.
So what’s the point of this blog? (Is there a point? I’ll laugh if I can find one today.) I guess it’s that if you think your book stinketh, hopefully it’s just your insecurity speaking. And, if you don’t have the talent you wish you had, well, just keep going, because at certain points (like in the video games our children/grandchildren play) you go far enough to reach the little treasures along the way, and you’ll find another bit of talent to add to what you’ve already received. Again, thank you, God. If earth is a video game, I’m hoping to get to the highest level -- with all my treasure points (writing and otherwise) intact.
Here’s to treasures of talent to be found along the way. And to stinky books that keep us humble enough to keep learning more of our craft.
Have a wonderful, insecure, talent-filled, stinky-writing filled day.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
I just got back from our church’s girl’s camp and I am encouraged and invigorated. Any time a church puts 40 girls together for a week out in nature, good things happen. Even for the adult leaders, there is bonding at night as we sit around the camp fire and talk.
With forty girls camping out in the wild you have all kinds of temperaments and emotions thrown together. They all learn to get along with their fellow campers as well as learn to appreciate nature. Especially when they have to live without all the comforts of home. Collecting firewood, keeping the campfire going, cooking over a fire, setting up tents, morning flag ceremony and hiking through the woods all have life lessons to be learned.
Collecting enough of the right kind of firewood and covering it with a tarp to keep it dry helps us to think ahead in life. Making goals for what we want to accomplish keeps us on target. If we forget to cover the firewood, dew or rain will wet the wood and you have a problem. Thinking ahead is always a good thing.
Keeping the fires going for a campfire can help you to understand the nurturing of a relationship. Staying in a long term relationship needs emotional support during the good and the bad and it teaches you patience. Just like being patient enough to stick around to keep the fire going-it pays off in the end.
Cooking over a fire keeps you on your toes. You watch to make sure the fire doesn’t get too hot and you don’t burn anything. Kind of the way children are by the time they are teenagers. They certainly keep you on your toes.
Securing the tent stakes can remind us that we should keep ourselves grounded in life from the wicked ways of the world. It's too easy to be swayed by what is popular. We can see the blessings of keeping ourselves unspotted against what comes along in life. Those stakes keep us in one place just like we would keep our tent.
Having flag ceremony every morning reminds us that we should be thankful for our soldiers in arms from the first gun shot during the Revolutionary war to the bombs dropping on Baghdad. We are so blessed in this country for the many men who fought to keep us free and safe from the rest of the world.
Keeping on the path during the hike can remind us to focus on what is important in life. Stopping to smell the flowers and keeping on the straight and narrow even when the path is difficult are life lessons that stay with us. Some of those hills we climbed walking through the hot sun were brutal but we kept going. We did not give up and go back. We did not stray from the path we were to walk on.
Yes, living out in the wilderness has its insights and we can remember what we learned from our experiences at Girl’s Camp.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
By nature I am quiet with few words to offer, no exotic life experiences to note, I have a desk job, a regular abnormal family and a simple mind. I do know I have a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but that is more by faith than scriptural mastery. I know about changing diapers, being a taxi and worrying about young adult children. I know how to spatula 100 pounds on my hips without thinking, I know how to how to commence a mid-life crisis, I know theatre and the arts and I know that I don’t bond well with horizontal vertebrae (animals). I know the world is a scary place, but I also know it is an amazing adventure.
We are often told as writers to write what we know. What exactly does that mean? If something is fiction, then isn’t it make-believe? Do I need to have experienced something in order to write it with enough expertise in order for the reader to believe it? What if I’ve never been a vampire, a pilgrim, a dinosaur, a monk, a zoo keeper, a baseball player, a dog, an intergalactic ship captain, a ninja, a wizard or a hat-wearing cat? Does that mean I can’t write about it? I question that theory and implore other writers to chime in with their thoughts on this (whether they think they know something about it or not).
I am writing a book wherein my character is not my age, race or sex. He lives in a place that I have only driven through in a time period that I can only imagine. None of the other characters or antagonists remotely resembles anybody that I am acquainted with or that I associate with. My character has talents that I could hardly dream of and life hurdles that I would never want to have to jump. Although I feel compelled to tell the story, should I not be writing this book?
If I stick to just what I know, then I am writing about a walrus, pew-sitting, neurotic mother who enjoys “Cats” but only on stage. Somehow that doesn’t seem to make for a very exciting book series.
I know of a Caucasian young man who is writing a musical theatre piece on the Civil war. He drips with musical talent, but somehow there is no way a guy that looks like him, should be writing African American spirituals with complexity like that.
My point is that I think (I just think – I don’t KNOW), sometimes we are inspired to write things that are beyond our realms. Sometimes there is a higher power with a higher purpose for putting a pen in our hands and words in our heads.
I just wish those moments of purpose would come more frequently.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Yesterday's post opened the proverbial can of worms for me. I have a degree in history. At one point in my life, I devoured historical fiction. Then I soured on it. The reason is because even with a simple BA, I knew enough to know that wasn't right, it didn't happen that way, it wouldn't have gone down that way. So I turned to sci-fi/fantasy or total adventure type books and never looked back.
But years ago (yes we argue around here all the time about using "but", but I like it) I read a story about Druids and Romans. It was fiction. The storyline was pretty typical for historical fiction and the sex was for its time fairly graphic (another reason I quit reading those types of books) but the real stunning theme of the book was the main character saying to his fellow Druids, "I'm going to Rome because if I don't go, the only history anyone will know of us is what they write about us, and they consider us their enemies.”
My jaw dropped. Here was the real truth hidden in the historical fiction. Not the Druids and paganism. After all, the Romans were pagans as well. Not the ritualistic ceremonies, but the fact that history is usually written by the victors. Naturally, the losers are portrayed in the worst possible light to justify what the victors did.
This is NOT what happens in our day; in fact, it is almost the opposite. Without getting into the political realm, let’s just say a lot of slack is given to the other side today.
My professors drilled in me (as I commented yesterday) that you need to read, where possible, the diaries and notes of contemporaries and then triangulate the truth, because each person writes from their own perspective. There is no such thing as impartial observation.
Coming full circle, I think I’ll stick to my new genre--mystery--and keep my history and my fiction separate. Kudos to all of you who can walk that line between the two and keep it true. I know it can be done, based on the Work and the Glory series, but I'm not the one to write it.
Monday, June 25, 2007
As I was researching George Washington for an upcoming talk in Sacrament Meeting in July, I came across the following remark made by Richard Norton Smith in his article, “The Surprising George Washington” (see http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1994/spring/george-washington-4.html -- great article!):
“In the words of Oscar Wilde, ‘the only duty we have to history is to rewrite it.’” The author, however, states, “From the beginning, my ambition was not to create a Washington for our times, but rather to live with the man in his own times and on his own terms.”
Those words struck a familiar chord when I read them. Where had I heard them before? Ah, yes! Way back in college (and I do mean way back!), from my history professors. To paraphrase, “The first rule of a historian is to judge the people you are learning about not by our modern-day standards, but in the context of their own time.”
When I sat down to begin this blog, I noticed a “label” on the ANWA blogsite for English history, which sent me to a excellently written essay entitled “History or Fairytale” by Donna Hatch. (Anyone interested in historical writing who has not already read this essay, should definitely do so.) Donna zeroed in on the need for historical accuracy when describing the societal trappings and mores of the time period in which one is writing. As a supplement to her thoughts, I would like to add our responsibility to approach our characters’ worldview in a similar way.
The examples I offer come from medieval history, because that is the time period I have studied most extensively. Whether one is writing about King Richard the Lionheart of England, or a fictional woman in the Middle Ages (the setting of my own soon-to-be-published novel), an author has to choose between “rewriting the past” (the “fairytale” of Donna’s article) or “living with the character in his own time and on his own terms” (i.e., “history).
King Richard the Lionheart:
One “rewriting” of history is that Richard was homosexual. Why this (currently very popular) conclusion? Because of a contemporary reference that he “shared the bed” of the king of France.
But taking Richard “in his own time and on his own terms”, the sharing of beds was very common. In the first place, beds were sometimes few and far between. When one did have the good fortune to possess a bed, whole families shared them. In medieval inns, complete strangers shared them. And certainly, sharing a royal bed with a royal guest might be considered the height of royal hospitality with no sexual implications involved at all.
A common “feminist rewriting” in historical romances (I just finished one a few weeks ago) is the introduction of the heroine dressed as a man and wielding a sword with great alacrity, on the apparent theory that “anything you (the hero) can do, I can do equally well or better.” If all the women who have populated romances, who dressed and fought as men had in actuality existed, the pious, conservative monks who kept the chronicles would certainly have made scandalized note of it.
But let’s take at least one actual medieval woman “in her own time and on her own terms”. Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine was as clever, strong, competitive, rebellious, and utterly un-submissive a woman as ever existed in any age, and although she apparently did, at one time, resort to dressing as a man in an attempt to join her sons in a rebellion against her husband (King Henry II of England), there is no record that she ever waved a sword about or viewed the disguise as anything more than a ruse to help her avoid detection. Eleanor was all woman. And she gained vast influence in the kingdom, not by fighting men on their own terms, but by fighting them on hers. Most women in the Middle Ages who desired to exert influence within their own spheres would have been forced to follow her example.
When writing fiction, one therefore has a choice: “Rewrite history” by fashioning a heroine who dresses and fights like a man (a possible aberration, but by now employed so liberally that the device has, in my opinion, become trite as well as historically unlikely), or draw a woman who may indeed battle the male dominated society “on her own terms”, but not by ignoring the realities of “her own time”.
How does one introduce and maintain a fictional character “in her own time and on her own terms”? As Donna said: Research. But also, imagination. Put yourself in your character’s time period. No, not “yourself”. You must reach beyond yourself, and put yourself in your character’s skin. You must live with her, “in her own time”, all the wonders, limitations and societal attitudes that confront her. And you must overcome her challenges, not as a 21st Century woman would, but as a woman “in her own time”.
Breathe her age with her.
Walk a mile in her historical shoes.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
By Liz Adair
Saturday, June 23, 2007
I'm going to take a slight deviation from my 'Donna's Book of Writing.' Instead of focusing on tools of the trade, I want to address something within us. This week has been one of the more difficult times in my life, but I have learned two things I wanted to pass on.
First of all, we all need friends. Unfortunately, when I'm down, I often turn inward and shut everyone out, including my very best friend, my husband. Of course I often blame him for my problems. Poor guy. He often says "Hey, I'm a good guy" or "We're on the same team." I seem to be in constant need for reminders that burdens become lighter when someone else helps carry them - even the burdens we think they give us.
In the very unrewarding and frustrating endeavor to get published, I often turn to my writer friends for solace and encouragement. After a particularly scathing critique (these are supposed to be helpful?) by a respected literary agent, I moaned to my writer friends, many of whom are multi-published, that I must not be a good enough writer to ever make a career of it. To a person, and without batting an eye, each one of them assured me that the only reason this agent didn't like my work was because she wasn't the one to represent me. They reminded me of the importance of finding someone who saw my value.
Seeing one's value can be difficult. It takes a mirror, at times. Finding a good friend who loves me helps me see my value.
We all need friends. We all need people who see our value. Surround yourself with friends who see your value and who cheer for your joys and weep for your sorrows.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
by Kari Diane Pike
So, how are you? I hope you said happy! I wonder how many of you took on the challenge to tell everyone you meet that you are happy. A few of you have shared your experiences. Isn’t it fun!
A couple of people have asked how to create happiness when life seems so full of negative and challenging experiences. Isn’t that what we all ask at one time or another? I frequently hear women describe their battles with loneliness, depression, physical ailments, and trouble with their spouse and/or children. Our lives are filled with challenges. So how do we create happiness?
My husband received a Father’s Day card from our new son-in-law that not only touched our hearts, but served as a great reminder of how we begin to create happiness.
Wow, it’s odd calling you that. Ya know I wished for a long time for a new Dad and it wasn’t until I stopped and dealt with what I had that I finally got my wish. Happy Father’s day, you truly are one of the great ones.
Profound, isn’t it!
This young man struggled for nearly 10 years with his relationship with his father. Most of the time, he felt anger and bitterness. When he let go of those negative feelings and focused on what he wanted, Daryn discovered his love for his Dad. He began to do things to show his father just how much he loved and respected him. Every time they visited, he told his Dad he loved him. He showed gratitude and appreciation for his Dad. For the first time in 10 years, Daryn heard the words he had so missed and longed for. As Daryn left his parents home this Father’s Day, his Dad pulled him aside, gave him a hug, and said,
“I love you.”
Gratitude is the key to opening the door to happiness.
May I walk you through a rather typical day?
Yesterday, I had not planned well to begin with. I stayed up too late Tuesday night doing who knows what, and slept in until eight. Fortunately, I looked at my little black planning book, and with dismay saw I had promised to sub at the temple mid-shift. I should have remembered the time but, since time is told with numbers and numbers and I ignore each other as completely as possible, I only remembered I should either be leavng home or getting there around ten. No problem.
I showered, shampooed, didn't have time to curl, so I slapped on a wig and got ready to leave in plenty of time. I found my glasses, strapped on my watch, checked my recommend, and looked for my hearing aids. They weren't in any of the places I usually put them. I searched and searched, and the clock kept on ticking. Finally, in desperation, I went without them. (I STILL haven't found them.)
Traffic was traffic. Sometimes it worked for me, sometimes against. A long, slow train even stopped in front of me. Luckily, it backed up.
Good fortune again. The parking lot was full, but somebody left a place up close, and I got it. I actually thought I would make it on time. I hurried too fast. As I turned the locker key and pocketed it, I realized I'd forgotten to put on my long, white slip. Oh well, better there than to have somebod point it out to me. I missed preparation meeting. Everybody treated me sweetly, but as it turned out, patrons were just scarce enough that my presence was hardly needed. I had a wonderful, but short time at the temple.
When I got to my car, I hardly glanced at the pick-up alongside until I started to back out. The bed was piled high with watermelon, and I remembered that Brother Barney always brought melons in season from his farm in Queen Creek. Free for the taking! Yippee! That made my day.
At home, I booted up the computer to blog, but first checked my twenty-five new e-mail messages. Before I'd finished, my son David telephoned for me to send my layout for the 'Sox Box' flyer. I'd already given him a printout. If there is a way to illustrate on this new [I've only had it a year] computer, I haven't discovered it. So I turn to my talented son.
David said he'd finished the illustration on his computer, and thought if I e-mailed it, he wouldn't have to type in the text. So I did. He called back saying no, don't paste it--attach it. Naturally, I'd forgotten how, but I managed, feeling rather fulfilled. He didn't receive it. Not even the message with an unopenable attachment. Nothing. Nada. Nevertheless, my 'sent' box said it went. While on the phone with him, I re-sent it half a dozen times, carefully following his instructions. I sent test messages, which he received easily. My 'sent' box claimed ever one of them went. I could even open the attachment from the sent message. Finally, I called Cox to see why. After about ten minutes of questions and answers, the only excuse the geek could come up with was that the attachment must have been too long. 325 words? Too long? Yikes. After about two or three hours of frustration, room felt hot, my stomach queazy, and my brain numb. I was ready to forget it all, and hand out an unadorned flyer.
Then David called back with a brilliant idea. He walked me through a post to his website for the 492nd Bomb Group, and finally got the form he needed. Today he'll get it to me, illustrated with individual socks of various kinds and sizes floating down, hanging out, and strewn beside a "sox box". Since David is a perfectionist, I'm eagerly looking for the results, but also feel a bit guilty for taking so much of his time. I'd post the results to you, only it wouldn't do any good.
Suffice it to say, I thought no more of the blog, nor can I remember what I had intended to say. I knew frustration, but I freely admit it was still a wonderful day. I did some knitting, a bit of crocheting, watched something interesting on TV (I've already forgotten what) and read until my eyes made me stop in the current choice for a reading club, "The Far Pavillions" by M.M. Kaye, then worked a SuDoku, napped in my LaZboy, woke up and went to bed.
This morning, I listened to a Dr. Walker, professor of English at BYU Hawaii, who talked of the many times he and his wife had to start all over again in a new place, a new job, and new experiences. Some were more traumatic than others. Like moving with a wife and five children from Canada to hot, muggy Oahu and given quarters with no fans, no air conditoning, a stove that was tagged with DO NOT USE, and the biggest dead cockroach imaginable lying on its back in the middle of the living room. Their instinct was to turn and fly back to Canada. But they survived and loved it.
I thought of all my own beginnings. I've racked up quite a few. After high school, but before I married, I lived in four different states and the District of Columbia. Since then, we've moved about thirty times. Most of these beginnings have been fun. All have been enriching. Some I've met with flying colors; others I've come up with too little, too late.
Almost every day I promise myself a new beginning. Today I'm going to get organized. I'm going to put things away instead of merely down. Clutter will go. I'll know exactly where everything is. I'll plan ahead, and quit procrastinating. I'll learn to follow a schedule instead of giving in to whatever whim grabs my attention.
I'll actually read the Book of Mormon every day instead of spasmodically, and then guiltily trying to atone by reciting a few verses before dropping off to sleep. I'll remember friends and family, birthdays and anniversaries, with contact of some kind so they know I'm thinking of them. I'll schedule Family Home Evenings with my kids and married grandkids, and plan them well. I'll interview each descendent separately at least once a year. I'll write a minumum 500 words a day on something or other. I'll memorize all the hymns in the hymn book, and review them --and all the poems I've memorized--regularly, so they'll stay memorized. I'll read all the old classics, and watch the classic films.
I'll learn how to paint. I'll take time to play the piano daily, and get back the skill I've lost. I'll walk the dogs every day. I'll actually study the CD's I have of college courses, and I'll work on speed reading. I'll still crochet or knit a dishcloth daily. I'll embroider, or bead, sew or craft, or paint, and actually finish the fity or so kits I have stowed away, taking up needed room. I'll write accompaniment to the music I've written, and edit the script for the 'reader's theater with choir' program we presented when I almost got it polished it up two years ago. I'll get brave and submit, instead of just dream. I'll actually DO the March of Dimes thing I just promised to do in August. I'll go to the ANWA retreat, even though it's sandwiched closely between Colorado Springs and the Grand Canyon.
And I'll learn to write succinctly--briefly stick to the point and not wander.
I will be awesome! Maybe.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
By Betsy Love
My life is nuts right now. Marsha suggested I use one of my papers from one of my classes. One of the Assignments we had to do was to see a play and then write a reaction to it. So friends, Mormons, and countrymen or women as the case may be, lend me your ear...or eyes. Below is what I turned in to my instructor. Not to be a braggart, but I am number one in this class.
Pillow Talk Turned Theatrical
Christopher Sergal’s play Pillow Talk produced at the Hale Theater is endearing from the moment the main characters walk on stage. Anyone in the older audience who has seen the movie Pillow Talk with Rock Hudson and Doris Day will remember the story of duplicity and feigned innocence. This romantic comedy pits a man and woman against each other as they share a party line. Jan is utterly frustrated by Brad who is constantly on the phone singing love songs to his many conquests. The plot thickens when we learn that the man who is seeking Jan’s affections and a yes to a marriage proposal is also the best friend and musical producer for Brad. When Brad meets Jan at a night club, he realizes that she could be his next conquest, but not as Brad but as the charming, out-of-town, wealthy Texan. He then sets out to woo Jan, who falls immediately for him without realizing that she is in actuality falling for the man she hates. Through their dating Brad realizes that he is indeed in love with Jan and is willing to give up all of his other women and settle down with Jan. Of course the problem is that he knows that Jan hates him.
The characters fit the formula for a romance. She is an uptight, prudish virgin more interested in her career than romance. He is the epitome of a “player”. What woman can resist a rogue? The play is cleverly written, the plot complex enough to keep the viewer wondering whether it will end well. As in any great “feel good” story, the happy-ever-after ending seems impossible in the final act, but manages to have that happy ending after all.
The show, done in the round (arena), managed to pull off two apartment living rooms with multiple entrances in a small stage area. Jan’s apartment, complete with its decorator feminine touches and set dressings, contrasted sharply with Brad’s apartment, which was bold, with sharp lines and angles. Before the characters set foot on the stage their differences were obvious. While theater in the round has its challenges in directing, the director kept the characters moving so that the actors’ faces were viewable by most of the audience most of the time. One of the creative concepts for the play was the walk through
Viewing this production after class lectures and discussions, it was interesting to view the play critically. Pillow Talk was a straight-forward romantic comedy. The characters were strong, but the supporting characters were stronger. Without the eccentricities of the maid, the homosexual tendencies of Jan’s decorating partner, and the jealousies of Jonathon (the man pursuing her), the play wouldn’t be nearly as funny. Characterization definitely played a strong factor in the play. The duplicity of Brad fit the concept of Aristotle’s plot for using mistaken identities to create comedy. Sitting in the audience, I started thinking about the concepts and things I needed to be looking for, but very soon after the play began, I became so caught up in the moment of the play that I had a hard time focusing on anything but what was happening on the stage. That is what makes a great play; when the reviewer becomes so engrossed in what is happening that all else falls away. For those two hours the audience becomes wrapped up in the lives of someone else, and being sincerely concerned about their outcome.
Pillow Talk is a must see. The script is cleverly written, with lines that keep the audience laughing from one quip to the next. Having seen both the movie and the play, there is nothing more satisfying than watching a three dimensional production over a movie. The acting was believable, the sets creatively done, especially considering the limited space, the sound and lighting well done as well. This play runs through June 30th and is well worth $18 a ticket.
PROVO, UT—JUNE 18, 2007
“We shall yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. . . . In God’s name and by His help we will build up a literature whose tops will touch the heaven, though its foundation may now be low on the earth.”
When Latter-day Saint Apostle Orson F. Whitney first spoke these words, the literary canon of his people didn’t contain many works. Fast forward over a hundred years, and literally thousands of novels are published, enjoyed by readers each year.
The quality of fiction has significantly increased in recent times. New writers are finding it harder to break into the industry each year. This is hard for upstart writers, but great for readers.
While LDStorymakers began several years ago to serve only as a support group and opportunity for networking for LDS writers, it has morphed into a powerful force in the LDS market.
Today they unveil their newest project, the brainchild of LDStorymaker and novelist Robison Wells: an annual fiction award named after Orson F. Whitney, honoring his vision of having LDS “Miltons and Shakespeares.”
“The Whitney Award will be given annually in conjunction with the LDStorymaker writing conference each March,” Wells, the author of three novels published through Covenant, explains. “This is an exciting time to be part of the LDS fiction industry, and we hope the Whitney will become a prestigious and sought-after award.”
Anyone can nominate a novel published during the previous calendar year in any of six categories, and an academy of industry professionals will vote on the final ballot. Nominations are being taken for books published in 2007 by LDS authors at the Whitney Awards website: http://www.whitneyawards.com/
Monday, June 18, 2007
I am excited this morning about a book I’m reading: Train Your Mind Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley. The author writes science articles for the Wall Street Journal, and the book presents scientific data on the neuroplasticity of the brain – the brain’s ability to change the function of anatomical areas previously thought to be hardwired in their performance. (An example is the visual cortex in individuals blind from birth being used for hearing.) In collaboration with the Dali Lama, the most fascinating chapters examine the ability of the mind to change the neurochemistry of the brain with applications in obsessive compulsive disorder and depression.
This is revolutionary in scientific arenas because scientific dogma has been that the brain determines the mind, its consciousness and thought. But there have been a few scientists over the last couple of decades who refused to believe this. Now the studies are being done that prove otherwise.
A comparison was made between the modality of a treatment called “mindfulness cognitive psychotherapy” and psychotropic drugs such as Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft. In this treatment, the patient learns how to monitor depressing thoughts that trigger depression in a non-judgmental fashion and to call them what they are, sad thoughts and nothing more. The circuit of depression is interrupted and relapse, a significant problem in people who suffer bouts of depression, is averted. This is markedly contrary to the experience with anti-depressants, where discontinuing the medication often results in relapse within 18 months.
I wonder if there will be found in this research a new and empowering tool. The effectiveness of visualization and mental rehearsal is already accepted and used in activities such as athletics where performance is important. This new information expands that knowledge. I find it exciting because I believe that anything that empowers a person to be in charge of his or her life, to exercise agency and enjoy the thrill of self-efficacy, which does not compromise this agency through ill-effects such as drug dependency, is good.
And I am excited because there are in our society influential and thoughtful individuals who do not kowtow to prevailing thought just because it is there. The idea that depression, for example, is solely due to a deficiency of neurotransmitters in the brain, is one that has been advanced by an aggressive media and drug companies peddling their products. Even though psychotherapy has been shown to be as effective, the money and therefore influence has been behind and from pharmaceutical companies. Yet there are scientists who held true to their postulates that there must be more than feeding starving serotonin receptors for the treatment of depression.
I find this book to be hopeful and empowering, paving the way for new treatments for stroke, mental disorders and learning disabilities. The miracles of consciousness and thought, of morality and agency, are not merely by-products of neurochemistry. And the miracles of the brain, the wonder of the genetic code, the capacity for adaptation in the face of enormous stress, are topics for which I have keen curiosity.
It has been a long time since I have read a book that offers so much hope and good news. My wish is that I have not bored you with this because it is exciting to me to stand at the edge of truth and see the swath it cuts into the staid and over-cultivated fields of hegemony.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Lately, I've been listening to a lot of writers get hyper about the word was: how its usage in a novel surely marks the author as an amateur; how terrible it must be to have more than, say, 60 examples of was in a full-length novel; how we should all do a search in our manuscripts and root out the evil word was.
No, I didn't misspell demure, meaning quiet and modest; shy, which many people think I am. Little do they know! I mean demur, to raise objection; take exception; object.
Yes, I demur. And now I'll digress a bit, too.
When I was in school, past tense had two forms: preterite (it can be spelled without the last e) and imperfect. Preterite is the simple past tense, like I walked. Imperfect has a helping verb, yes, often it happens to be the infamous WAS: I was walking. It could even be I used to walk.
Now that grammar is much more fancy than when I was young, preterite is called simply past tense and imperfect has been split into two, maybe three camps, depending on which source you cite. These are my buddy the imperfect, past progressive, and past continuous. Some people call past progressive progressive past. That's scholars for you, always changing things to get their name out there. The most commonly cited camp of the old imperfect is past progressive, but I like "imperfect," so I'll go with that in my discussion.
Preterite or past tense is used to express actions that took place in the past. Bang! The action was completed. Done. Finished.
Imperfect denotes a past tense with an imperfect aspect. The action is incomplete. It's ongoing in the past, or happened regularly or continuously until it stopped. This might be expressed with a verb ending in 'ing': Mary was laboring for fourteen hours. Trust me, that's continuous and progressive, both.
Sometimes you use both preterite and imperfect in the same sentence: As I was walking in the park this morning, I saw a red-winged blackbird. Saw, was, was, saw, hmmmm.
I studied Spanish in high school and really learned it when I served a mission for the LDS Church in South America. You might say I was learning Spanish the whole time I was there. (Aha! Imperfect!) Spanish makes no apologies for using both past tenses. They each have their use.
Okay, back to why I demur about using the word was. Writers get told to use strong, active verbs to express their action. Yes. That is the best policy, and very handy to keep out passive voice. Most writers take this to mean they always have to use preterite tense.
However . . . when an action is not complete, when it is ongoing, you just gotta use the imperfect tense, which could mean you gotta use was. I maintain that was is misunderstood, misused, and misappreciated, er, unappreciated. All the popular novelists use it. I say you can too! Within reason. Also, with reason. Knowing why you're using it, and all that.
Agree or disagree? Tell me your side of this issue.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
I haven't seen a new post for several days, and I happen to feel like talking. So. . . .
This week I've become quite excitedly involved in helping set up a sock drive for a very small organization that specializes in providing warmth and dignity to the feet of those in need. I've talked about it on the ANWA email, and even submitted the following filler to the Beehive publication.
"While helping at a food line, Caryn Shoemaker noticed a small, barefoot boy placing one foot over the other, trying to warm his toes in the chilly January weather. She ran to find socks, and the smile on his face, when she knelt to put them on, reminded her of how important feet were in Jesus’ ministry. She contacted a few friends, and a small organization began.
It’s called One Small Step and in almost 6 years, they’ve given out about 100,000 pairs of socks--and a whole bunch of other stuff (particularly underwear and blankets) that has been donated along the way. Back-to-school requests are already coming in, yet most of their sock drive groups are not active in the summer. As Caryn says there’s 'a big sucking noise and nothing in the pipeline.'
They take socks of all kinds and sizes, new or old, or even slightly soiled. They sanitize and pair them, and make pretty bundles of four same-size pair, hopefully one new. Socks with holes just go in the rag pile. Odd socks have already been taken to Mexico and the Philippines. You may contact her at email@example.com
or donate to 1131 S. Paradise Dr., Gilbert, AZ 85234."
I also wrote a little ditty (whether it should be called a poem or not is debatable) to go on a collection box.
THE PRIMARY SOX BOX
To give to those with chilly toes
Who do not have the cash,
Toss your old sox in the Primary box
Instead of in the trash.
School sox, play sox,
Sox for Sunday best.
Long sox, short sox,
Sport sox, all the rest
New sox, old sox,
But sox without a hole.
Clean sox, soiled sox,
Thousands is our goal.
There is a call for large or small,
Alone, or in a pair.
Your sox, your neighbor’s sox,
Invite your friends to share.
Young or old, shy or bold,
Share a kindly deed.
There is always need.
So here’s a box to fill with sox
And bring a great big smile
To some of those with chilly toes
And help make life worthwhile.
I read this to my eldest daughter when I called, and to my delight, she brought a couple of kitchen garbage bags filled with her husband's old socks he no longer wears, but wouldn't throw away, when they came last night to a family get-together. This morning, just for fun, I counted the socks--one hundred one pair folded together and a handful of extras. Leftovers, I presume, from years of Christmas, birthday and Father's Day gifts, as well as 'let's try them' buying. Caryn will be delighted.
I also read the 'poem' to my family, who jokingly downplayed Milan's contribution, but applauded when I tossed the bags in their midst. My husband, who had earlier shed his shoes, reached down and pulled off his socks to donate. All cheered as he handed them to me, but I examined them, poked a finger through a hole in one heel, and said, "Sorry, these won't do. They don't give away socks with holes." He couldn't have provided a better visual aid stimulus.
We had a lovely anniversary day. We hadn't planned a thing until the day before, but ten of us managed to go to the Mesa Temple where we were married sixty-two years ago, June 15, 1945. Then around half of our family--about forty of us--got together for a back-yard barbeque. Since even the evening was hot, except for younger children who preferred the swing set and trampoline, we crowded into the house. The four yapping Chihauhau-mixed dogs had already been banished to a bedroom, because they bark raucuously at every newcomer, annoying the adults and scaring the kids. Food was plentiful and delicious, and the talk loud and continual. I was glad my hearing aids were still upstairs.
Eventually we gravitated to the living room around Charles and, to celebrate the day, sang "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" and other songs we remembered singing together: "You Are My Sunshine," "Mairzydotes," "I Love You a Bushel and a Peck." Mark asked me to sing the song they'd made fun of when they found it in a Japanese hymn book, so I sang, "Oh, I Had Such a Pretty Dream Mama." (I think they were all pretty bored by the time I got through, but I was, nevertheless, delighted that I could remember all four verses, when I haven't thought of it for at least the last ten years. I recall singing it solo in Sunday School when I was a child. Then, I presented the sock plan.
The dogs were let out of the bedroom, and to the surprise of some, didn't even yap at anybody. Apparently, they don't mind anyone who is there when they, the dogs, come in, but no stranger is allowed to enter without full fanfare, and even family must not arrive unannounced.
Couples and small families hugged us goodbye, gathered their things and drifted away, one at a time.
Charles and I were pleased with the day, and survived well. We're even up and going today, but are very happy to do practically nothing but rest. I found myself nodding at my computer, and now and again struggling to keep from falling off the chair. The body doesn't seem to know the difference between stresses; happy-sad, physical-mental, or whatever. But for octogenarians, we're surviving pretty well.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Faith asked Delsa Anderson to fill in for her this week. Delsa is known for her wit and wisdom, and extensive knowledge of grammatical usage, so she's a delight for those who use ANWA's critique group. She sent me two pieces of her work for this blog. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. ~~Marsha
AUNT ELLIE’S REVENGE
My Aunt Ellie, laughing merrily, told me this true story many years ago. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent (and unfortunately, the guilty as well.)
Aunt Ellie’s husband, Ed, was charming, outgoing, good company, a clotheshorse, and an all-round, no-good rascal. Every day he went to work with an immaculate and starched ironed white shirt, white trousers, a black tie, and a hopeful attitude. He had a whole closet full of white shirts, because Ed was a milkman, back in the good old days when milk was delivered to the door early in the morning. His customers loved him, or at least his young female customers did. He was successful with his work and the women.
More than once, Ed had to beg Ellie’s forgiveness for his sexual adventures on the milk route. And each time, his brokenhearted customer had to back off her demands for marriage, because, after all, he already had a wife and two children.
Aunt Ellie endured a lot of other insults, actually. Ed was just plain mean. For instance, he didn’t believe in her religion, so he would try to make it impossible for her to go to church with the children. One Sunday morning, he was still lying in bed when she demanded the key to the garage because he had locked the car inside to keep her from going to meeting. He refused, pointblank, to give it to her—said he’d lost it. In a fury, Ellie, who was not a milk toast sort of woman, picked up the alarm clock and fired it at him, missing his head by an inch, and putting a sizable hole in the wall. He laughed uproariously, and said “You little hellcat!” Pulling off his sock, he shook the key out in his hand and tossed it to her.
Finally, Ed met his Waterloo. He really fell in love with one of the young women on his route. Complicating the whole thing was her insistence on marriage, because she was having his baby. He wanted Ellie to go quietly, especially hoping she wouldn’t cause him to lose his job.
Aunt Ellie was moving out, leaving him the house. She didn’t know where she’d turn, or what she’d do, but she felt she wanted to make a dignified exit. So she cleaned the house, packed her clothes, the children’s toys, and everything she was taking with her. Then she considered how to make a final statement.
A basket of un-ironed, starched clothes stood in the corner—mostly white shirts. Aunt Ellie dutifully sprinkled them down to moisten the lot, then ironed each shirt--perfectly. The job lasted for hours. She hung them in the closet in a row—perfectly. Then she ripped each one up the middle of the back—perfectly—and left the house forever.
TO THE GLORY OF YESTERDAY
I picked up my left arm and studied it closely;
In fact you could add that I viewed it morosely.
I spoke to my husband, and rather verbosely,
About vibrant skin turned to crepe.
Why, only five years ago, being quite truthful,
I still received kudos for looking so youthful.
My pride now lies low in a fact I find ruthful:
Trim triceps transposed to a drape.
The form I displayed with such élan at fifty,
Has changed to an infirm condition—not nifty—
With rotator cuff which declines to stay lifty,
And “svelte” won’t describe my new shape.
“Oh, Delsa,” they say, “You are always so cheerful!”
And that is quite true, ‘cause in old age I’m fearful
That if I don’t smile I’ll sure give them an earful.
I’m a raisin, now, DANG, not a grape!
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
How well do you accept change in your life?
Some people plan their lives so completely, there is no room for change and suffer terribly when in fact changes come. Other people embrace change so thoroughly, they become bored with real life and seek to feed the change beast. Most of us are somewhere inbetween, both dreading and desiring change.
I bring this up because of a talk I had with a co-worker the other day. We are both in our 50s, and I mentioned that when I was young, old people (yes, I thought 50 was ancient and in those days 55 was retirement) would always say life never turns out like you thought it would. So I made darn sure I had a great life plan.
Plan A contained everything I wanted to make me happy, productive and fulfilled. Heavenly Father approved of my plan; I figured He would since I pretty much based it on my patriarchal blessing. I had age goals (by 21, I'd have my BA), I had spiritual goals (temple work), mother goals (four at least) and life goals (I wanted to be a college professor).
Now, plan in hand, I started out perfect, graduated at 21. The next two years were to be work/master's/marriage. Somehow NONE of that happened. And I failed to make a Plan B. I just started drifting and eventually gave up on each goal. Then 10 years ago, life took a very strange turn. I ended up back in Alabama, taking care of my father and writing. Writing was never in the picture for me.
Am I happier? No, I liked Plan A. But the interesting question is has my life been worthwhile? That was really the underpinning of the original plan, a life worth living. I am beginning to think so, although I mourned the demise of Plan A for years, desperately trying to modify it. Now, I'm just hoping that when I have that life evaluation, Heavenly Father will say "Well done, thou good and faithful daughter." And really, that's all I wanted in the first place. Plan A would have gotten me there; but No Plan (as I call it) may do so as well, just differently.
Monday, June 11, 2007
While pondering what to write for my very first ANWA blog (my very first blog EVER), I glanced down at the bookmark I was using to mark The Great Snape Debate, my current read-in-progress. There sat a very small gray and white kitten wearing a yellow and pink sweater, his eyes wide with wonder as the bookmark asks: “And then what happened? And then what happened? And THEN what happened?”
That is the question that keeps a reader reading. Note how J.K. Rowling (speaking of Snape) hooks us with that question on the very first page of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Rowling: The Dursleys had everything they wanted, but they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it.
Reader: A secret? I love secrets! What kind of secret did they have? (If the page ended here, would you turn it to find out, “And then what happened?”)
Rowling: They didn’t think they could bear it if anyone found out about the Potters.
Reader: Oooo, who are the Potters? Why don’t they want anyone to know about the Potters? (And then what happened? Would you turn the page to find out?)
Rowling: Mrs. Potter was Mrs. Dursley’s sister, but they hadn’t met for several years... The Dursley’s shuddered to think what the neighbors would say if the Potters arrived in the street. The Dursleys knew that the Potters had a small son, too…This boy was another good reason for keeping the Potters away.
Reader: What’s up with the Potter boy? Why are the Dursleys so embarrassed about their own relatives? What’s going to happen when the Potters and their son show up? (And then what happened? Aww, let’s put the book down now and find out tomorrow…NOT!)
Can you see how that simple, but all-important question, keeps the reader turning the pages? Rowling keeps us reading by keeping that question alive in our minds all the way through six years at Hogwarts with Harry Potter. “And THEN what happens?” is what has us all on the edge of seats, waiting eagerly for Harry Potter, Year Seven to arrive on the shelves.
Now, pull out a piece of your own writing. Read it with fresh eyes. Does the question, “And then what happens?” weave its way invisibly but irresistibly, through your lines? If not, maybe you need a little more mystery. Don’t lay all your cards on the table from the very first page or chapter. Keep your readers guessing. Keep them asking…
“…and THEN what happens?”
Sunday, June 10, 2007
My son Clay is in
I know he won’t mind if I share parts of a letter with you. He writes:
Thursday night (our Friday night) Zach and I got on a bus to Irbid, the city where the University where Roger is studying is. On the bus I sat next to an Egyptian fellow and we talked the whole way. It was interesting, because when he said he was from
I found out that he was getting ready to get engaged the next day to an Egyptian gal. I gave him my congratulations and asked him when he was going to be getting married. "In two years, maybe one." I know that may not be so uncommon in the states any more, but I knew for sure that he and his fiancé wouldn't be doing most of the things those American couples are doing during their engagement. It's an interesting aspect of this culture. Before a man can start looking for a wife, he should have himself in a position to provide for the wife. He needs a job, an apartment, furniture for the apartment, enough money for the dowry and all the wedding stuff. If he really wants be a prospect, he should have a car. A lot of guys save for years before they are ready to get out on the market. My roommate Hani is lucky; his parents started early, and he already has an apartment above his parents’ that is ready to go for when he gets back, so he can start looking right away.
Zach and I hooked up with Roger, and before we began the activities for the night we got some dinner. Roger took us to this Yemeni restaurant that was amazing and so, so cheap. We sat on the carpet-covered floor and ate saucy lamb with bread and our hands. It was all so good and so filling. I think the meal cost us each $1.50. We were the only gringos there; most other were Yemeni.
One of the reasons Zach and I were excited to go see Roger this weekend was that he had been invited to a wedding party up north of Irbid, out in the sticks. He checked to see if we could come with him and got the thumbs up. The fellow we went with was a coworker of the "Arees" or groom. When we arrived, there were lights strung up, loud music, and people dancing. The Arees came out and greeted us with lots of welcoming phrases. Chairs ringed a rather large oval-shaped area between two houses. Women sat on the porch of one house watching, and the rest of the area was covered in men, young and old. Right away, a young guy of about 22 came and greeted me. We had to yell our get-to-know-you’s in each other's ear because the music was so loud. His name is Gazi (sounds like jazzy), and he speaks English very well.
After Gazi left me, he joined the dance line, which is simply all the men holding hands and stepping to the right in a set rhythm. The dance is called the dibca, and I think it's mostly a Levantine dance, maybe even just Jordanian. The dance has two parts. The first is a kind of one-two, one-two three-four that repeats. On the three-four the left foot does a double step in front of the right. This is continued until the lead man gets ready and changes to the next phase which is a little livelier. It is a one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two where the one-two-threes involve a kind of dip-step with the right leg and the one-two is a kick out with the left leg.
When Gazi came around the first time, he called to me and motioned for me to join. I was hoping for an invite and jumped right in. With all my dancing experience I thought it would be no sweat, and it wasn't, for the first part. I had the steps down, and it was all good until the dance switched to the second part. It took me a good 15 minutes of the dance switching back and forth to figure out that the rhythm had to change. We all had a good laugh afterwards because we felt so lost and knew that we looked like a bunch of ridiculous Americans out there butchering their dance.
We were hoping to get speaking time in at the wedding, but the music they had was so loud there was no chance for it. The had a pre-recorded track that they played and added a guy on a kind of double flute thing that sounded like a hopped-up kazoo and another guy singing. It was crazy-fun and crazy-loud. Whenever the dibca circle passed by one of the four full-volume speakers, I thought I could feel the fluid in my ears vibrating. There was one point in the program that they turned the music off, and when they did, Roger, Zach, and I all felt like we were yelling at each other. We couldn't hear a thing.
The break was nice though, because I had a chance to sit down with my new friend Gazi and his friends. We got to talk for about 15 minutes and had a great time. We joked about things and got to know each other a little. One of the guys was wearing a cool black bracelet that said
I had seen pictures of and heard about the presence of firearms at weddings, but had forgotten about it, I guess. Not long after we got there, as we were sitting or doing the dance, out of nowhere would come: Crack, Crack, Crack, Crack! Someone was celebrating with the 9mm. The funny/scary thing was that the gun must have been dirty and jamming, because they never got through a full clip. When it jammed, they would have the gun down, looking at it and pointing it in whichever direction was the most convenient for observing the problem. Whenever this happened we would raise our eyebrows and then remember that we were at a regular party and everyone was used to it. We asked if there were ever accidents, and they said that sometimes people die at weddings. There are stories of the bullets coming back down, and I was happy to see that the gun was always pointed at a non-perfectly-vertical angle.
Today was a great day. Eight of us took a trip to the
The hike was beautiful; absolutely gorgeous. It may be the coolest thing that we will see. At one point in the hike there is a boulder that is about the size of a house that is lodged about 50 feet above us in the canyon. Very impressive.
After Wadi Mujib, we all went and floated in the
That's the update. Wish I had time to tell all the stories and fill in all the details. I appreciate the prayers. I do need them. Pray for my motivation to knuckle down and learn the vocab. I struggle with it so much, or tell myself that I do, that I sometimes find it hard to justify putting in the time.
You can see how, though I worry about him being so far away, I wouldn't wish him anywhere else. I'm saving all his emails and putting them in a binder so that, in addition to his own journal, they will be a record of his time in Jordan and Egypt.
You can see how, though I worry about him being so far away, I wouldn't wish him anywhere else. I'm saving all his emails and putting them in a binder so that, in addition to his own journal, they will be a record of his time in Jordan and Egypt.
Saturday, June 9, 2007
I just had a great writing-oriented day down in the Valley.
It began with a meeting for the Executive Board of American Night Writers Association. We solidified plans for the retreat coming up in July, and made preliminary plans for our writing conference in March.
Afterward, I went to the home of my good friend Connie, where we enjoyed lunch together, then helped each other by brainstorming plot points for our respective novels. That was fun!
One detail didn't seem to gell, though. Then, as I was driving back home, it all came together.
Since my mind is built like a steel sieve, I desperately tried to find something on which to write down the idea. I didn't have my handy-dandy tape recorder with me, so that was a wash. No notebook was at hand. Then I said to myself, "Marsha, you're crazy! You're driving 70 miles per hour and you want to make notes?!?"
So, what did I do?
I pulled over to the side of the highway and called my answering machine. Do I love technology? YES!
Friday, June 8, 2007
by Donna Hatch
Two years ago, I attended a Writers’ Conference. One of the subjects discussed was the incorrect use of simultaneous action. Since then, I have noticed how many other writers – mostly new writers – use this. And ever since my eyes have been opened, it has become not only suprememly annoying, but something of a pet peeve of mine.
Here’s an example:
“Crossing the room, she seated herself at the vanity.”
It is not humanly possible for her to cross the room at exactly the same time as she sits herself at the vanity. She would first cross the room, then sit.
“Stumbling to the sink, she washed her face.” First she’d stumble, then she’d wash her face.
And a third:
“Flinging open the door, he stormed outside.” First he’d fling open the door, then he’d storm outside.”Now here are some correct uses:
Looking over her shoulder, she backed the car out.
Grinning wickedly, he threw a rock.
Stumbling over the shoes on the floor, she felt for the door.
Choosing not to ring for her maid, she got dressed by herself.
Now remember, this is a pattern to be used SPARINGLY. Overusing an "ing" verb then a comma, then another action, can become distracting even if its correctly used. So, instead of relying upon using incorrect simultaneous action – which is not only annoying because of its impossibly, but screams novice writer – think about exactly what you want to say and then say it as succinctly as possible.
Part of the reason why people do this, is because they are trying to link together a bunch of actions without saying; “she did this and then she did that.” If that's you, then ask yourself if you really need to go into so much detail.
“I woke up. Sunlight streamed through the windows, declaring, to my annoyance, that morning had arrived. Muttering, I sat up, pulled back the covers and swung my feet over the edge. I stood up, I donned a robe and went to the window. I looked out to see children playing in the street and birds singing in the trees as if they hoped to mock me with their cheer. With a sigh, I turned away and went to the closet. I opened the door and selected a black tee shirt and jeans. Black fit my mood perfectly. I pulled on the tee shirt and jeans, and stepped into a pair of keds.”
Okay, now while there’s nothing horribly wrong with the above statement, it is a little boring because it goes into too much detail. Assume the reader is intelligent enough to piece together what you are NOT saying.
“Sunlight streamed through the windows, declaring, to my annoyance, that morning had arrived. Muttering, I got up, donned a robe and went to the window. Children played in the street and birds sang in the trees as if they hoped to mock me with their cheer. With a sigh, I turned away and dressed in a black tee shirt and jeans. Black fit my mood perfectly.”
It’s not only shorter, but doesn’t insult anyone’s intelligence by giving too much detail. It also avoids any incorrect simultaneous action, because I don’t feel I should somehow cram so many actions into a few lines.Happy Writing
Believe in Happy Endings...
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Life is funny. Take this morning, for example. I got up before 5:00a.m., showered, did my hair, and trotted on down to Phoenix Baptist Hospital to meet a client scheduled for an induction at 6:00a.m. When I arrived, I discovered the induction had been postponed because all the labor and delivery beds were full. Sure enough, when I actually looked at my cell phone, I found the message my client sent me at 4:00a.m. No Problem! Now I had time to water the yard, fix breakfast, clean the pool, and read my e-mail before I had to chauffeur kids to their summer activities.
I clicked the link to this blog and enjoyed browsing through the posts, all the time wondering what bits of joy and wisdom today's post would bring. I wandered around a bit, checking up on those of you who are linked to ANWA Founder and Friends. After about 45 minutes, it hit me. I'm the one supposed to write the post today! Good Morning! Okay, I feel rather silly, but that's all the more reason for me to share this story today. (I guess joy and wisdom will have to wait for another day!)
In my former life (you know the one…B.C….Before Children) I studied zoology. Now that I’m raising the two-legged variety, I delight in rediscovering nature as we explore forest floors, desert washes and, our favorite place of all, coastal tidal pools.
On one of our San Diego jaunts, we decided to explore. We found a fun bit of beach with large boulders and cliffs that looked promising. It was a weekend, so there were a fair number of people already enjoying a day of fun and sun. Remnants of a recent storm, large waves crashed against the rocks, sprayed unsuspecting tourists. The uneven surface created a haven for all the amazing little tidal creatures we sought that day. A large split in the cliff revealed hundreds if not thousands of crabs clinging and scrambling in and out of the cracks and crevices. Smaller pools held shellfish and sea urchins. Even the tiniest puddles harbored barnacles and other miniature crustaceans.
Imagine my delight when I discovered a rather deep pool, teaming with life. I called the kids over to share in my discovery. We found more crabs, and urchins, shellfish, and even fish. Several varieties of fish, some quite sizable, swam in the pool while one or two floated belly up their eyes glazed over in death. I told the kids that the storm must have been rather severe. The waves probably washed the fish onto the rocks and left them stranded.
A college student standing next to me expressed concern that the rest of the fish would soon die if someone didn’t do something to set them free. He was right, of course. The pool was too small for the number and size of the fish stranded there. I asked if anyone had a cup or net or anything we could use to scoop up the fish and toss them back into the ocean. The college student handed me his paper cup and yelled,“Save the fish!” I knelt down and frantically chased the fish around with the paper cup until I succeeded to catch one of the larger ones. I jumped up, ran to the edge of the cliff, and threw the fish out towards the open sea, while the college student once again yelled, “Save the fish!” Encouraged by the cheering going on, I hurried back to the pool to continue the rescue effort.
A little old Asian gentleman now stood next to the pool with an odd look on his face. He looked at the cup in my hand and I looked at the fishing rod in his. We both looked at the fish in the pool. I gulped down the sick feeling churning up from deep inside me. The little man said something I couldn’t understand, but the look on his face confirmed what I feared. “Yours?” I asked, pointing at the pool. He nodded his head and held up the wriggling fish on the end of his line. My face burned with embarrassment as I turned to look for the college student to back me up on this innocent mistake. He stood off a little way with a bunch of his buddies, pointing and laughing at the joke they had played. It was a set up. My kids were long gone, of course. I bowed respectfully, and apologized as I backed away, then bolted to my car. Oops.
What has been an embarrassing moment for you?
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Thank you, Marsha, for sharing your grateful, heartfelt reflections of your wonderful Sabbath day this week in Christopher Creek. Following so closely after the trauma of approaching fire, it must have been an even more touching relief. No wonder you thanked Our Savior, The Comforter, your family, all friends, and the firefighters.
I’m reminded of the great terror of thick darkness and destruction almost two thousand years ago, and of the glorious, thankful aftermath which filled the hearts and souls of those who survived so completely that its loving influence remained unabated for some two hundred years, and it took another couple of hundred for this goodness to die out.
I asked my husband to describe the terror he felt when he knew he would not come back safely from his third bombing mission. He said it was not debilitating, for he could and did still take off, but his fear consumed his mind until he thought of Christ in Gethsemane and he was filled with a sweet calmness. I think he still has it.
Though we shun problems and turmoil, even hate to face them, perhaps we ought to be grateful for all these sore tests; for after the trial of our faith come the blessings.
Of course you or I would never beg for trouble to attack us (and seldom wish it for anyone else, especially our friends) but when trouble does come (and it will) if we prayerfully try, I think we can gain a deeper understanding of feelings represented by words like tolerance, patience, love, respect, compassion, and even, sometimes, forgiveness. Above all, we learn the joy of relief when things settle back to a ‘normal’ that is more or less enriched, depending upon which thoughts we have chosen to keep.
Every day of my life, if I look for it, I can see evidence of good works abounding. People serve each other. Family, friends, even strangers, offer smiles or a helping hand. Why? Moroni said, “. . . if there be one among you that doeth good, he shall work by the power and gift of God.” Does that mean that every friendly word, every good deed, every kind and honorable action, even though it may seem to originate in someone else, is actually being done ‘by the power and gift of God’? What a mind-boggling thought! How awesome to realize that whenever I look at the good in others I am actually seeing sons and daughters of God, acting under His influence.
I look at others who are much more talented than I; more prolific, more understanding, more diligent, quicker, etc., and I wonder. Does it really matter which particular gifts are (or are not) mine, or how wide or narrow my own sphere of influence might be?
For Mothers’ Day, a beloved daughter-in-law brought me a hydrangea plant with four huge, round clusters of small blue blossoms. Every time they begin to wilt, I pour a cup or so of water into the soil, and within minutes the blossoms re-hydrate and regain their radiant beauty. Even today, more than three weeks later, two balls of blossoms look great, and I wonder how these two survived their ‘drought’ when the other two in the same pot gave up.
These blossoms seem to say to me things like:
“Don’t give up.
Be who you are.
There’s always help.
Receive thankfully and give generously.
Bloom your best where you are planted.
If you keep on trying, it will be enough.”
Monday, June 4, 2007
By Betsy Love
I want to be writing, really I do. I want to keep up with my blogging. I have so many things I would like to be working on, but the call of my further education has my complete and undivided attention. Am I still writing? Absolutely, but not in the way I love the best. Writing for me for the next four weeks will take on the tone of the MLA research paper and the reaction paragraph, all done for professors who believe it their duty to make sure I write.
Since I am unemployed, I am desperately making myself someone a theater department would love to have. I’ve never done things in the normal way. For instance, when I got my job teaching theater at a local charter school it was purely by accident or perhaps it was divine providence; some days I’m not sure which. In spite of my lack of education in the education field I was begged and cajoled into accepting a position as the drama teacher. I kept repeatedly telling the assistant principal that I neither had the credentials, nor the teaching background to undertake such an endeavor. Seven and a half years later I finished my teaching degree in English (of all things), not the theater major I had originally thought I would go for. I then taught English for two years and loved it. Now as I think about where I would like to teach, several opportunities have come up for me to once again teach theater. Drama positions are not easy to come by, so I felt myself lucky to have two brought to my attention. The problem is that I am lacking in twelve credit hours in order to have the credentials to teach theater. In a mad rush, I have enrolled at the local community college in the “fast track” program to complete those credits.
Which brings me back to the subject of writing. While I am still writing almost every night, it is not very enjoyable. I write reaction papers to plays, and critiques of plays, and reviews or plays. I create projects that challenge my knowledge of the elements of design that go into movies and plays. But, hey, it’s only for four weeks, right? I can do anything at this break-neck pace for that short of time. Oh, by the way, did anyone see where I hung my white jacket? You know the one with the little buckles on the sleeves.
It is 4:15 in the morning. There was so much moonlight coming through the shutters I thought it must be much later so I got up. That moon is working at full capacity just now, reflecting a full circle of sunlight onto this dark-sided earth. It makes me think of my ANWA sisters, those night-writers who also get up early or go to bed very late. Writing is the best thing to do when you are up before the birds and only the cats and the occasional evil cockroach are awake with you.
Some years ago, a writing teacher gave me the book "Zen and the Art of Writing" by Ray Bradbury. He identified in my struggle to unearth the truth about my life, some of the same drive he found in Bradbury’s essays. For example, consider his opening line: “Sometimes I am stunned at my capacity as a nine-year old to understand my entrapment and escape it.” It was immediate resonance.
But it is what he has to say about writing that catches my attention this morning.
“First and foremost,” wrote Bradbury in the preface to “Zen,” “it is a gift and a privilege, not a right.” This little book that includes essays from thirty years of a prolific writing career was published in 1994. At that time there already was a sense of entitlement in our society that has proliferated like spring weeds. Today, I believe, there are too many who lack the discipline to acknowledge something as a gift and privilege and feel appreciation and gratitude for opportunity. Instead, they rant and pout and demand guarantees from nebulous government overlords because it is “their right.” It is interesting to apply Bradbury’s paradigm to writing. Perhaps it explains much of the ill-written and poorly structured writing that is all too common. Grammatical errors notwithstanding, somehow the stuff gets published.
And second, Bradbury claims, it is survival. “Not to write, for many of us, is to die.”
What happens by not writing, he explains, is “that the world would catch up with you and try to sicken you. If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.
“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”
Oh, how I love a great one-liner, the well-turned phrase that just “says it.”
Great big generic Life brings great big generic problems and I have had a bunch lately. Of course, when I compare, I can always find someone with bigger worries but comparing really doesn’t help me with mine except to fire up a guilt surge because I should be happier—you know how that score goes—and anything I should be doing and am not doing is really not going to help, either. But writing . . . now there is something better than a bottle of Prozac and that costs less than a piece of bubble gum. It may even, through the clarifying light of putting something on paper,bring peace, calm, optimism and could possibly lead to resolution.
I agree with Bradbury. “I have learned on my journeys, that if I let a day go by without writing, I grow uneasy. Two days and I am in a tremor. Three and I suspect lunacy. . . . An hour’s writing is tonic.”
P.S. This is a terrific little book . . .
Sunday, June 3, 2007
So many gospel topics are running through my mind today on this day of worship. Our Relief Society lesson was on being prepared for temporal emergencies as well as other emergencies, such as emotional, social, financial, and the like.
Our Sunday School lesson was on faith in Jesus Christ and how to apply it to everyday living. It included how we need to persist in faith and prayers to know what God's plan is for us individually. Our wishes may not be for our best good, but God does answer our prayers.
In Testimony Meeting, the feeling of gratitude that filled the chapel was almost tangible, as members and visitors counted a few of their blessings and gave their thanks to God for them.
After choir practice, I came home and watched 'Music and the Spoken Word,' the weekly broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. In keeping with the recently celebrated Memorial Day, gratitude for our armed forces was the theme. How my heart was stirred by their rendition of 'Battle Hymn of the Republic!'
The program following on BYU Television was 'A Worship Service,' which was a re-run from Thanksgiving time in 2001. Again, the topic in song and sermon was gratitude.
Thus prompted by the teachings of the day, I want to express my gratitude for all my blessings, which are too numerous to count or tick off. I'll only mention a few.
One of them is the blessing of firefighters who know what they're doing and work hard to accomplish their tasks. Another is a Savior who knows me and my needs, and sends the Comforter to sooth my fears. A third is friends who love and appreciate me, and offer solace in times of trouble. A fourth is family. The promise of an eternal binding is balm to the wounded heart. I am grateful for the sealing power.
Today, give a thought or two of what your blessing are, and how you can express your gratitude to God for them.