Tuesday, October 30, 2007
But when I draw a blank on a major feature story, I do what every good writer does, I procrastinate. I wait until my boss (old boss, I’m now that boss gulp) says I have to have this for this issue. Then I force myself to organize the material in way that is eyecatching, sometimes with photos, sometimes with information. I usually feel embarrassed about the final product knowing it didn’t have my full attention.
But what about writer’s block when there is no deadline. When you are not really forced to write, when no one will really know that you have a block, or care? I write with an old college roommate and for fun we do what is now called fan-fic. It serves a dual purpose. We write about favorite stuff, and it keeps us writing. For a few years, we went gunho on elaborating on storylines based off the movie or show. Some we have parlayed into short stories, one of which has been published, two rejected. Now, we’re back to just having fun with it. Only we aren’t.
The latest foray has come to an abrupt halt. We wrote ourselves into the proverbial corner and had to back out. So, being the good troopers we are, we went all the way back to where this “case” began with a clearer vision and proceeded to rewrite. . .well more like fight about the rewrite. The usual formula is I write, she edits. Mostly, it works. Lately, not so much. I’m struggling to write, get frustrated when she points out the flaws and grumble about the whole stupid story in the first place.
Last night, I finally gave up, told her to either write it herself or drop the whole thing. I was serious.
So the question is when you are writing for yourself so to speak or when there is no deadline, how do you overcome writer’s block? I know I can google it. I’m asking my sisters what they do.
And thanks in advance for your advice. I need it.
Monday, October 29, 2007
I got a call Wednesday night from the editor of our local newspaper, The Copper Basin, asking me if I’d be willing to be interviewed about my new book, Loyalty’s Web. Now before you get too excited, you have to realize that Kearny, AZ has a total population of about 2500 people, which includes “households”, so the paper’s circulation is pretty tiny. Still, since I’ve never been interviewed by any kind of newspaper, even this was kind of exciting for me.
So far, people who have asked me about my book have been more interested in the writing and publishing aspects of my experience, than about the time period of my writing. So I have to admit, I was completely unprepared when the first question out of the interviewer’s mouth was, “Tell me about the Middle Ages.”
Tell me about the Middle Ages? That’s like asking, “Tell me about your church.” Where do you even begin? Fortunately for Church members, we were given some excellent tips in our last General Conference, and after all, there’s always the 13 Articles of Faith. But at which point of the thousand years of history that constituted the Middle Ages do I begin my story? I babbled something about agricultural advances after the fall of the Roman Empire, while my mind lurched desperately inside that blank space that inhabits the mind when someone approaches us with an overly-generalized question about any vast subject filled with fascinating details…if we only knew what detail they were looking for.
Fortunately, the interviewer eventually mentioned the predictable words: Dark Ages. As always, I bristle a bit when that term is applied to my favorite area of history. At that point, I could have launched into a discussion of dozens of examples to contradict the term…but what did my mind immediately snap to first? Dark vs. Light… What else, but illuminated manuscripts? These manuscripts were full of light, delicately painted pictures with jewel toned hues and glimmering gold leaf, illustrating bible stories or Saints’ lives alongside the meticulously calligraphied texts. Exquisite illustrations that shimmered when the light of sunshine or candlelight fell upon them, literally “illuminating” the Word of God to both the literate and the illiterate of the age.
Only that evening, when reviewing the conversation again in my mind, did I find myself wondering if there was another connection that drew me to that topic, beyond the dark/light issue. There were many other examples of various degrees of “enlightenment” that took place during this much maligned age. (Dark Ages, indeed! Do they think the Renaissance sprang out of complete nothingness?) But when it came down to crunch-answer time, what did I choose to talk about? Books. And in a few quiet moments of reflection, I felt a connection vibrating through the ages to a unique group of kindred spirits —medieval illuminators and their companion calligraphists—who loved and treasured books as I do, making books their life’s work just as some of us are striving to do the same, 1500 years later.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
By Liz Adair
I don’t understand football. Well, let me temper that statement. I understand football a little. I know what the object of the game is. I understand downs and touchdowns and penalties and the basic rules of the game. I know you get six points for a touchdown, one for a kicked extra point, two for playing the extra points after a touchdown, and three points for a field goal if time and downs have run out and there’s no hope of a touchdown. All that I understand. What I don’t understand are tactics and strategy, the names of all the positions (what is a nose guard, anyway?) and the job each is called upon to do. I can keep track of which team has possession of the ball, but unless it’s in the air, I rarely know where the ball is.
The upshot of all that is, I seldom watch football. Oh, I’ll sit and watch the odd game with my husband on TV, but it’s a default experience, done to be companionable, not because I like the game.
About seven years ago, as I was pushing sixty, my son Clay played first string on the offensive line of an undefeated team, and I became an instant and avid fan. Dressed in a warm coat (and, at the end of the season, snow pants) and carrying my stadium seat, blanket, thermos of Postum and a tarp (if it was raining and I knew the stadium didn’t have a roof), I’d willingly go and endure the elements to watch for that tall lanky figure dressed in blue and gold.
Clay graduated, and that was the end of my involvement in football…until last Friday night. My grandson was playing his last home game. It was the end of a grueling week, and I had a hard time working up the energy, but because I love this boy, I decided to go. Unlike Clay’s team, Sedro Woolley hasn’t won a game all season. Hasn’t even come close. They go to state every year in wrestling but never shine in football.
I teach this grandson in seminary, and Friday morning when I talked to him about the game, he mentioned that he was coming up against the big boys that night. When I got to the stadium (dressed in heavy coat and lugging all the requisite paraphernalia except the tarp), found my seat, and read the program, I understood what he was talking about. At least six of the players on the opposing team topped 300 pounds. I gritted my teeth and prepared for a bloodbath, looking for positive things I could say about the Sedro Woolley team as I talked to my 180-pound grandson about the game.
Two minutes after the kickoff a miracle happened: The Big Boys were about two yards from the end zone when someone fumbled and a quick-thinking Sedro Wooley player scooped up the ball and ran. I was watching the cheerleaders at the moment and didn’t see the fumble or the scoop, but all of a sudden, here was this blue-clad figure sprinting down the field at the head of a gaggle of hulking, white-suited pursuers. Touchdown! We took a picture of the scoreboard after the extra point had been made: Sedro-Woolley 7, Visitors 0. No one had ever seen that before.
That wasn’t the end of it. Sedro Woolley capitalized on two more fumbles and multiple penalties, and at the end of the first half, the score was twenty one-zip. I looked around at the stands and thought of all the people who weren’t there, witnessing this miracle. I thought of how very nearly I hadn’t come. As I felt my feet and backside turning to blocks of ice, I reckoned the sacrifice was a fair trade.
The Big Boys made two touchdowns, but weren’t able to overcome the errors and fumbles of the first half. At the end of the game, jubilant Sedro Woolley fans spilled out onto the field to congratulate the players. I found my grandson, and as I and the rest of the family hugged him, he couldn’t keep from grinning.
As I soaked in the hot tub afterward, trying to restore feeling to my extremities, I thought about this grandson and this game. He’s had a bit of a struggle with choices lately. I hope to get the chance to tell him that life and living the gospel is like this game. Just get in there and do what you’ve been trained to do. Life will send the big boys at you. You’ll get pretty battered and bunged up. But, if you keep the faith, you will prevail. If you keep the faith, you will have miracles in your life at the least expected moment. If you keep the faith, your family will be there to meet you when the game is over, rejoicing as they embrace you and saying, Well Done!
More than that, they’re in the stands watching you now. They know you so well they can pick you out of the uniformed crowd by the way you stand or hold yourself. They don’t need to read the number on your back. They’re pulling for you, cheering you on, groaning at the missteps and feeling the penalties personally. They root for you on their knees each night and morning.
Go, Grandson, go! Fight, fight, fight! Keep that faith! Endure to the end! Yaaaaay!
Friday, October 26, 2007
To follow up my last blog on creating the Alpha Hero, I’d like to discuss his perfect match; the Alpha Heroine.
A strong hero needs a strong heroine. Now I want to qualify this; strong does not necessarily mean a machine gun-carrying, vampire-killer karate expert. A strong woman is strong-willed, courageous, and intelligent. She can be a vampire-killer, an attorney, or a duke’s daughter who’s never broken the rules of society.
She is emotionally independent. She does not need a man to feel valued because she’s comfortable with who she is, even alone. She won’t accepts second best and never quits once she’d set her mind to accomplishing something, no matter the obstacles. She uses her head and confronts challenges head-on.
An alpha heroine, though she may normally be timid, will walk up to the villainous pirate and demand the release of her sister. She’s the one who will march into a bar of cut-throats and scoundrels to offer a reward for help finding a lost child. She’s even the idealistic lady who’s always dreamed of true love, but will marry a brute if it will save her family from prison.
Many strong women struggle between being tough and being tender, and historically, all women were expected to do was marry well and be a good (obedient) wife and mother. This presented many problems for the strong woman who was torn between doing what was expected of them, and what they felt was right. This is part of why historical novels are so timeless; watching the internal conflict as the heroine tries to resolve the conflict between her duty to her family or to society, and her duty to her heart, or her hero. The rigid expectations of society gave very little hope for choice, but the alpha female always found a way to make a choice. This is part of the appeal for Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice – she refused to marry the horrible Mr. Collins though her mother put upon her considerable pressure to do so. Instead, she married someone who could make her happy, and still managed to satisfy her family.
When protecting their loved ones, a strong women will do anything, face any danger, endure any humiliation – not because she’s weak, but because she’s strong and understands that swallowing one’s pride to protect or provide for those she loves is of paramount importance. Unfortunately, that’s what drove many women throughout the centuries to resort to prostitution – many were cast-off wives with babies to feed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not recommending that course of action, but we need to understand the courage and desperation that drives a women to such a detestable existence, and not judge them.
Often, the alpha heroine is labeled a trouble-maker. She’s the one who refuses to accept injustice and will speak up or lead a rebellion. She balances honor, dignity and self-worth. Women are built to endure, survive, and carry on, regardless of the cost. All novels at some level should basically say; “You go girl!”
Alpha females, like all women, want to be cherished and respected. That is a woman’s right. Women are typically more in touch with their intuition than men, and a strong woman understands her emotions make her powerful. Some women mistrust soft, feminine or “girly,” so authors usually try to find the balance between a warm, caring, compassionate, and strong, resilient and courageous when creating an unforgettable heroine. Women should never fear their own strength or dismiss our intuition, especially when it comes to protecting those we love, but often they do. So do heroines in stories.
The alpha male needs an alpha female to watch his back as much as he needs her to save him from loneliness or cynicism. She’s the one he trusts to watch over hearth and children while he’s away. He’s usually too domineering for a woman who doesn’t match him in strength.
In the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, Belle runs away from the castle, is attacked by wolves and saved by the beast, (yes, even strong females need to be rescued, on occasion). Then she does something that indicates she’s an alpha male: She tends to the beast’s injuries, and when he roars at her that she’s at fault, she shouts right back at him. He’s so startled that he sits down, shuts up and lets her nurse his wounds. What a woman! The alpha female will not be trampled on. He respects her for standing up to him and eventually stops trying to bully her. Through her courage, strength and compassion, she helps him discover the tender man inside the beast.
Inside every arrogant, over-the-top alpha hero who resembles a beast in every way, there, too, the alpha heroine will uncover the loving man just crying out for redemption and love, and who would gladly lay down his life for her. And that is the stuff of happy endings.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
The headlines read, “Half a Million Evacuated”, and “Firestorm!” I jumped every time the phone rang, hoping to hear from friends and relatives whose homes stood in the path of those raging wildfires. By 10:00pm, we still hadn’t heard from our foster daughter and her family. Mentally, I knew they were safe but I needed to hear it from them. I wanted to hear Yun’s voice and know they were okay. About 10:30pm, I jumped when the phone rang its distinctive double, long distance ring. Yun was safe. Her family was safe. Even their dog was safe. My entire body shook with relief as I placed the phone back in its cradle and sent a prayer of gratitude to my Heavenly Father.
Of course, the fire continues to weigh heavily on my mind. As I write this, it’s still raging and thousands of people are facing the possibility of losing their homes and businesses. But I have suddenly became aware of something that has changed my perspective. Yes, the fire is dangerous. Sometimes it is so powerful, there is nothing we can humanly do except get out of the way and watch it burn. It is a visible threat to our worldly goods and even our mortal bodies. However, when all is said and done, and the fires are extinguished, homes will be relocated or rebuilt, businesses and schools will reopen and life will go on. Of course, that’s the simple version. We are forever changed through the experience, but life will go on. Even those who lost their mortal lives will go on in Spirit. They’re just in a different place.
There are greater dangers to our well-being than physical firestorms. They are the spiritual firestorms that threaten the eternal salvation of our souls. What makes these firestorms so dangerous is that if we are not armed with the power and tools of the Spirit, we can’t see them coming. While physical wildfires send up red and orange flames and thick, acrid smoke, spiritual wildfires are more like carbon monoxide, invisible and odorless, and we don’t realize we’re in danger until it’s almost too late.
Fortunately, our Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered in Gethsemane and sacrificed his own life in order to make that power available to us. Faith, repentance, baptism, obedience, and service are the tools we use to call upon that power to fight these spiritual wildfires. The Holy Spirit strengthens us and teaches us how to use these tools. Messages from the scriptures and latter-day prophets give us guidance and direction.
When an angel appeared to Amulek and called him to feed and shelter the prophet Alma, the angel promised Amulek he would be blessed of the Lord. Amulek bore testimony of those blessings:
“And again, I know that the things whereof he hath testified are true; for behold I say unto you, that as the Lord liveth, even so has he sent his angel to make these things manifest unto me; and this he has done while this Alma hath dwelt at my house. For behold, he hath blessed mine house, he hath blessed me, and my women, and my children, and my father, and my kinsfolk; yea, even all my kindred hath he blessed, and the blessing of the Lord hath rested upon us according to the words which he spake.” (Alma 10:11)
Another example of the far reaching effects we can have as we use the tools of righteousness was given by Pres. Dallin H. Oaks. While speaking to a group of Church leaders outside the United States, he admonished them to teach the members to pay a full tithe and by so doing, bless their entire nations. “When the people of God withheld their tithes and offerings, Malachi condemned “this whole nation” (Mal. 3:9). Similarly, I believe that when many citizens of a nation are faithful in the payment of tithes, they summon the blessings of heaven upon their entire nation. The Bible teaches that “righteousness exalteth a nation” (Prov. 14:34) and “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Gal. 5:9; see Matt. 13:33).” (“Tithing”, Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, May 1994, 33-35.)
Spencer W. Kimball taught, “To be a righteous woman is a glorious thing at any age. To be a righteous woman during the winding up scene on this earth, before the second coming of our Savoir, is an especially noble calling.” (“Privileges and Responsibilities of Sisters,” Ensign, Nov. 1978, 103.) As women of the Church, we have been given tremendous responsibilities. We have the power available to us to fulfill these responsibilities—to extinguish the flames of those spiritual firestorms. If we are as diligent about fighting our spiritual firestorms as we are about fighting the physical ones, we will bring great blessings to our families, the Church, and to the world.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
I thoroughly enjoyed Betsy’s blog on The ABC’s of a Happy Marriage. It triggered a lot of thought for me. For the last four or five hours, last night, when I should have been sleeping, and again for another two or three this evening, I’ve pondered about a couple of statements that rather intrigued me. Now, please, do not misunderstand. I’m not judging, nor even disagreeing, nor claiming my way or my ideas are any better than others. I don’t know that I’ve even thought it through logically. But here I go, anyway. They say before marriage one should open the eyes widely, but afterwards it’s better to keep the eyelids at half mast. Maybe I’m squinting.
First, I find myself feeling frustrted by the statement: “There is no such thing as happy ever after.” Why not? I claim to have been happily married for sixty-two years, and expect it to continue. After all, isn’t that what we expect of heaven? Or have I? Do I? Or is it?
Okay, I think I’m starting to figure out my problem. It’s with the definition of happily ever after. If it means being thrilled, laughing or smiling every second of the time from the marriage vows on, we can all agree there is no such thing. Life and our own agency continue to spark trying moments—times when we get sick, when we ache, when a meal burns, when the washing machine floods the floor, when the clock keeps on ticking though we crave more time, when the perfect dinner cools waiting for him to come home, when any number of things go wrong. Granted, iwhen any of these things happen, most of us habitually choose to become at least a trifle annoyed. With only a little more effort, this annoyance can be fanned into hurt and anger. Rehashing it in our minds can raise this little bump to a mountain, and it doesn’t take many mountains to create the Himalayas, or the Rockies.
Now ponder this. If everything went exactly like we think we want it to—if every meal were perfect, if we never had a bad hair day, if we could set our clocks by the moment our husband walked in the door, if there were no challenges, no illnesses, no rejections, no annoyances, no diapers to change, no spilled milk, no misunderstandings—the list can go on and on ad infinitum—would that make us happy ever after? I doubt it. It might be fine for a day (though I doubt if anybody ever has a completely perfect day) but wouldn’t it become boring? I’m reminded of the poem, Richard Cory, by Edward Arlingon Robinson. He was rich, handsome, influential, and had everything, and all the commonors wanted to be like him.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread,
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head!
So I say, hurrah for disturbance. Hurrah for change, for interruptions. I submit that life, to be happy, must have one challenge after another to either overcome or fulfill. After all, we keep hearing that to write interesting best sellers, a novelist must keep throwing rocks at her strong characters. Marriage and parenting are pretty well designed to keep us challenged, and therefore, ought to make us happy ever afterward if we choose to label the difficult times as challenges to meet rather than burdens to bear and grieve over, thus building into our bosoms our own mountain range.
Second: Marriage takes work, hard work, if it’s to succeed. I know lots of prominent people have said this, so undoubtedly it’s my definition of hard work that’s at fault. To me, hard work means making myself do something when I’d rather be doing something else. Work can be synonymous with drudgery, but not necessarily. Cleaning house is work to me. But when I really want a clean house and there‘s no other way to get it, I can talk myself into enjoying it, because I’m concentrating on the results, not the job. (All right. Anyone who comes to my room can see that, as I get older, I find talking myself into wanting to clean does get more difficult.) To me, if I enjoy doing it, that task is not work, but more like entertainment, or play. I just realized this can’t be true of everybody. After all, people do go to a gym to workout.
Now, what hard work does it take? Loving? Forgiving? Serving? Considering? Listening? Praising? Sure, all that takes effort. But does it take any more energy than it takes to hate? Hold a grudge? Incite to anger? Condemn? Insult? Pout? I submit that it’s easier in the long run to keep the commandments, and to build a good marriage than it is to suffer the consequences of sin, and of heartbreak.
As far as that goes, obtaining anything worthwhile demands dedication, time, and effort. That goes for eduction, career, family, hobbies, spiritual growth, physical health, friendships, just to name a few. But again, if you love school, you pay attention and do your homework. If you commit to honesty, you gladly give a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. If you love the Lord you serve willingly. If all this is hard work, then I’m wrong in my definition. I call it a joyous enterprise.
Okay, I’ll admit that my happily ever after life is undoubtedly because of the man I married. Had I chosen to marry (and reform) and one of the good-looking, athletic, rather charming boys I dated, who liked to break as many rules as he thought he could get away with, I’d have a completely different outlook. I’ve been grateful since June 5, 1945 that 2nd Lt. Charles Arnett, bomber pilot, returned prisoner of war, proposed. We married ten days later, with an everlasting covenant to make it last forever, and have been basically happy ever after.
I asked my husband if he felt he had had to work hard to have a happy marriage. He thought a while and said if he had, he hadn’t been aware of it, that all he had tried to do was to make me happy and, since I’ve always been easy to please, that wasn’t hard. He claims that if a couple both commit themselves to keep the commandments of the Lord, to love, to forgive, to serve, and to cherish, then he believes happiness in marriage is pretty easy, even with a few goofs and emergencies to challenge us.
So, after all that rambling, I’m still convinced that for the most part, with an easy-going, loving, forgiving. upbeat attitude and using a somewhat twisted definition, it’s humanly possible to get married and be happy ever afterwards, and find wedded bliss relatively easy to obtain.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
You’ve said, “I do”, those two little words that mark the beginning of the rest of your life. When a couple gets married they believe in happily ever after. Well, guess what? There is no such thing as happily ever after. 2 million divorces will be granted this year alone. One out of every two marriages ends in divorce. Surprisingly the biggest rise in the divorce rate has been among couples married ten years or longer. Not only do the husbands and wives suffer from such break ups, but their children pay the highest price. Children living without both parents struggle more in school, have a harder time adjusting socially and more apt to get divorced as adults.
So how can your marriage be the one in two that lasts?
I’ve been married for 30 years and believe me it has not been all wedding cake and champagne. Marriage takes work, hard work if it’s to succeed. I’ve read many books on the subject and practice the principles I’ve learned. The three most important things I’ve learned along the way can be summed up by what I call the ABC’s of a happy, healthy marriage.
A is for Attention.
B is for Bonding.
C is for Communication
Those three little letters are all you need to succeed.
The first is Attention.
By attention I mean that the most fulfilling marriages seem to be those where the couples are truly interested in each other, and yet they set each other free to grow and mature, to take on new challenges which may not include the other. That freedom does not include flirting with anyone outside the marriage bond. Loyalty needs to be foremost in the attention that you give your marriage.
Another form of attention is to be sure and compliment each other daily. Whose opinions do you respect the most. It is and should be from the people you love the most. A middle-age woman said, “Somebody needs to keep my husband humble. He gets so much attention from others I have to knock him down a peg or two.” How sad for this couple. Every husband and wife needs to be built up; especially by the people you love the most.
I remember one time at a family reunion when my aunt went on and on about my uncle’s faults. He had failed to clean the freezer and something spoiled. Not only did she regale us with his inadequacy to complete the task, but she continued into other of his negative attributes. I watched my beloved uncle squirm in his chair and wished that she would just stop talking! My husband leaned over and said, “Thanks.” I knew he meant that I would never belittle him in public.
It’s important to your marriage to pay attention to what you say about your spouse. Of course he or she has horrible habits and horrible faults. We all do. The challenge is helping your mate to reach his or her potential. How can belittling him help? How can insulting her be beneficial?
Attention also means, paying attention to each other. Don’t sit in front of the T.V. or computer or newspaper, or whatever distraction you enjoy. Honestly listen to each other. As we’ve learned, hearing and listening are two different things. How many of you have heard countless stories of misunderstandings that ended in break-ups? Most of these could have been avoided if they had listened to each other and tried to understand.
Keep dating! I live for those Friday or Saturday night dates. It’s a time to renew our friendship doing things we both enjoy.
Which brings me to B. Bonding.
Just like a bricklayer must use cement to hold a wall together, there are some important elements in bonding that hold the marriage together. Bonding is the most essential element in marriage. It’s the touches, hugs, the kisses, the quiet talks and those most intimate moments shared by a husband and wife that bond them together. We all know that men and women are different and in a marriage relationship men and women’s needs are different. In his book His Needs Her Needs Willard F. Harley Jr. says there a husband and wife each has 5 basic needs. Fulfilling each of these needs is the cement that will hold your marriage through the tough times.
Number one for the wife is Affection. A woman cannot live in a marriage without affection.
Number one for a man is sexual fulfillment.
Because these needs are similar men and women often confuse them. If men will understand that sometimes all his wife wants is to be held and cherish and loved then his wife will give of herself more freely. By the same token, if a man is sexually fulfilled he will be more likely to give his wife the affection she craves.
Number 2 for a woman is conversation. The man who talks to his wife will have an inside track to her heart.
Number 2 for a man is to have recreational companionship
The third need for a woman is openness and honest
The third for a man is an attractive spouse. Now that doesn’t mean you have to look like a Hefner bunny all the time, but that does mean that he wants his wife to look nice. Don’t dress like a bag lady, and don’t let yourself go after you say I do.
Forth she needs financial support
His forth need is domestic support.
Her final need is family commitment.
His final need is to be admired.
Finally we come to C—communication.
Without communication it would be difficult to pay attention or to bond. When you communicate honestly with your mate you enhance the attention and bonding. Talk to each other. Don’t just hear the words but really listen to the meaning behind the words. Never resort to the silent treatment. What is marriage if it is not sharing and helping each other through crises? Keep the door to your heart open. Use pillow talk. It’s the best time of the day. Above all else, never go to bed angry. Work it out, even if it takes all night. Don’t one of you ever sleep on the couch! (unless the kids crowd you out.) One trick that my husband and I do is when we start to argue about silly things we each have three days a week that we are allowed to always be right. I get Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. He gets Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. We don’t argue on Sunday, it’s a rule! Contrary to a popular song of the 70’s , “Love does mean you have to say, “I’m sorry.” It also means you have to say, “I forgive you.”
Long after the cake is eaten and champagne has gone flat you will want to make sure that you stay in love and stay married.
If you will honestly commit to following the ABC’s of marriage. Attention, Bonding and Communication your marriage will last. Your children will be better adjusted citizens and your life will be enriched. Someone once said, The greatest gift a father can give his children is to love their mother.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Today’s blog is about discovery and it will be short. I have had grandchildren this weekend and so have been seeing things through the eyes of a three-year old girl and a year-old little boy with short attention spans. Nonetheless, I have been reminded how I am a child, too, an adult in the perspective of my earthly family, but still one of the “little children” the Lord uses in the Doctrine and Covenants when talking about learning and what we are able to bear.
Outside my kitchen window is a low-hanging mesquite branch. It was windy this morning making the branch bounce and wave. Sunlight came from the east, through the moving mesquite and made a lovely, dancing pattern of light and shadow on the kitchen floor. Our little grandson saw it. He squealed and moved directly into the square of movement on the floor, chasing the shadows, sitting on them and in the patterned light, amazed and delighted and filled with joy because he had discovered something wonderful.
I watched, amazed, too, that something so simple could be so profound, and that the dirty floor wasn’t what this picture was about. My discovery was his joy and I recalled how much I love the interplay of light and dark, the way a stucco wall is lit by the long, tangential rays of a setting sun, and the gold that strikes the Tucson foothills every morning as the sun rises over the Catalina Mountains.
It reminds me that there is joy in noting the small profound lessons that creep into my life nearly every day, and in saying “Thank-you, Heavenly Father, for these tender mercies that are expressions of your love for me, for these tiny glimpses through the windows of eternity.” If there must be opposition in all things, then surely these experiences are the antithesis of the jaded, cynical, authority of our culture that is like a wet towel on the sparks of our finest and most spontaneous emotions.
The sun moved, the shadows went away and little Jimmy went on to other things: pulling pan lids out of the drawer. For him, everything is discovery.
P.S. I posted this blog and went into the kitchen where I made a discovery. The washing machine had flooded the laundry room and kitchen with two inches of water! Okay, find the
joy . . . find the joy . . . ah-hah! Got it. Now, the floor is clean. Sort of.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Today I had a unique experience in church. Last Sunday, a special meeting was held at the stake center. The members of two wards and our branch were invited to attend. (Editorial aside: see how passive voice is used properly for reportorial accounts?) During the business portion of the meeting, our branch presidency was released, a new BP and one counselor were called, and our membership exploded from 65 to 224 with the raising of our right hands (LDS congregations give approval of such actions under the principle of common consent). One ward gave up an entire town (Star Valley) to make us grow.
For many years, the good members of the branch have been praying for growth. To have it happen so suddenly was a surprise and a blessing, and has caused no end of excitement and bustling about during the week. Today was the first time we all gathered together to see how this would work.
What a wonderful spirit of brother- and sisterhood we had! We don't usually have children or youth in our worship service except when visitors come, but today they were there. They belong to us! Everyone had smiling faces. Everyone greeted others with warmth and joy.
Although we have a beautiful church building, I can see where it soon will be bursting at the seams, much as did the former chapel, a doublewide trailer. Fortunately, our building was designed for growth. I wonder how long it will be before we hear of pending construction? Probably not next year, although in 2008 we're going to get our own driveway down from the main road through our hamlet, instead of us having to arrive through neighborhoods. This will keep the neighbors happy (we won't be stirring up so much dust) and will provide a second escape route for them in case it becomes necessary due to fire or flood. The drive will also be a beautiful entryway to the chapel, with a better view of the steeple, so folks know there's a church in town.
Can you tell I'm excited? I look forward to wonderful things happening in my branch.
Friday, October 19, 2007
This past week has been unusually busy. The bookstore I worked in had me scheduled for four days of the week which was more than I was used to. My son’s soccer games were starting this week and every one else had places to go—all in different directions. I think I need a chill pill.
My older daughter turned 21 yesterday and moved out to her new apartment. She needed us to help her move all of her furniture and clothes and I needed to get my younger boys to a fall festival on the same day.
My night working schedule kept me from helping my younger daughter with her homework and I had to depend on her siblings to help her. Some days she never got to it because play time was too tempting and she skipped doing homework altogether. I also had to schedule cooking dinner earlier or leave the ingredients behind so they can make it themselves.
There was a new lady in the music department at work, who took one look at me and said she knew I was a Russian-Jew from New York. How did she know that? Apparently she had lived there and was familiar with the people. This past week has been unusually busy. The bookstore I worked in had me scheduled for four days of the week which was more than I was used to. My son’s soccer games were starting this week and every one else had places to go—all in different directions. I think I need a chill pill.
Tuesday, while I was at work, my soccer son took a fall in the street right before his ride was to leave and really messed up his knee. His older siblings washed off the wound and put a bandage on it and he went on to play soccer anyway.
It’s difficult to get through such crazy days with children’s schedules and crazy nights at work but one thing that helps me is reading scriptures in the morning. This week we came upon Alma 58. Heleman had been telling of their troubles against the Lamanites and how he had to hang on until provisions were sent to relieve them:
Verse 4: “And it came to pass that I thus did send an embassy to the governor of our land to acquaint him concerning the affairs of our people. And it came to pass that we did wait to receive provisions and strength from the land of Zarahemla.
Verse 5:But behold this did profit us but little for the Lamanites were also receiving great strength from day to day, and also many provisions; and thus were our circumstances at this period of time.
Verse7: And it came to pass that we did wait in these difficult circumstances for the space of many months even until we were about to perish for the want of food.
Verse 8: But it came to pass that we did receive food, which was guarded to us by an army of two thousand men to our assistance; and this is all the assistance which we did receive to defend ourselves and our country from falling into the hands of our enemies, yea, to contend with an enemy which was innumerable.”
That passage gave me great strength not to give up. If Heleman could wait “many months until they were about to perish for the want of food” certainly I could hang on a little longer and try a little harder to better my situation at home and not stress out over work schedules and trying to fit everything in. I didn’t have an army of two thousand men to assist me but help did come and the burdens were lighter. The schedule conflicts didn’t seem that burdensome.
Sometimes it seems hopeless that I have so much placed on me to do every day that I just cannot do it anymore. But by taking a few minutes to read the scriptures with my family at some time during the day, I am strengthened by the stories of what our forbearers did before we even got here. If they could hang on and get through those conflicting schedules and stressful situations, certainly I could too.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Several years ago there was a TV commercial where (if I remember correctly) the business didn’t have enough phone lines and so customers were getting a busy signal with a soundtrack of: ‘Take your money elsewhere. We don’t want your business.’ Well, I had lunch in that business yesterday. It was surreal.
I went there with four friends. The restaurant was decorated sort of, well, truck stop café, but with waterfront murals interspersed along the walls, and Mexican and fish & chips residing equally on their menu pages. We’d gotten a recommendation from a guy in our neighborhood that the dinner menu was great, especially the steak and shrimp. (First mistake: Walking in the door.)
The fish and chips sounded good to me, with the obligatory coleslaw, but I was confused by the menu. It did announce FISH & CHIPS in large letters on the back of the menu, but then, underneath, it gave the choices of fish (cod or halibut) along with the notice: "All orders come with one side: Fries, Salad, Coleslaw or Tator Tots." Since fish and chips normally already come with chips, I asked the waitress if the two-piece halibut came with fries/chips and she said, "No." (Second mistake: Trusting the waitress to answer accurately.) So I ordered the English Chips at $0.50 extra to make my order fish and chips. Then, for my side, I ordered coleslaw.
When I got my check, I saw I had been charged for both the English chips and the coleslaw. Not a big deal; the coleslaw was only 85 cents. But it was, I felt, based on the menu, an error and I shouldn’t have to pay as it stated I would receive a side (I inferred that the side would be free). I showed my waitress, expecting her to correct the error, who explained that I was in error and the check was correct. Because I felt it was not correct, and because she dismissed me so abruptly, I told her I would like to speak with the manager, as I thought they would make things right (um, that would be my third mistake--and I'll stop counting here because I'm not sure I can count that high). Again, it was only 85 cents. I’m not really that cheap. I promise. But it just felt like one of those darned principle-of-the-thing moments.
An employee came out a few minutes later (he did not introduce himself as the manager, so I’m not sure he was) who proceeded to explain to me again what the waitress had told me: I was wrong and should just pay my 85 cents. Only he was much more aggressive in suggesting I just was too stupid to read what the menu said (no, he didn’t use those words, but it was pretty obvious that was the message. So now I’d been misled, overcharged, and insulted. What great customer service.) Since, the ladies at the table agreed with me that the menu was misleading, I realized I wasn’t going to get anywhere with the guy, so I just suggested that perhaps the menus could be made less confusing; he told me at length how much had been spent on those menus and how they had just been redone.
Okay, a little background here. Back in 1982 when video stores just started opening, I purchased a franchise (Adventureland Video) which I owned for the next five years. Our franchise motto was ‘The Customer is King.’ They might not always be right, but they have to feel like they are right—or they will simply go to one of the many competitors for our business. I went out of my way always to make sure my customers were happy when they left my store. And I just always assume that other business owners feel the same way. And many time, they do.
Now that’s not the end of it. It just got curiouser and curiouser (I know that’s not a word, but it describes the event perfectly). When I told him I felt strongly that I had been misled and he was about to lose a customer over it (that darned principle-of-the-thing moment again), he—to my amazement—replied, "That’s fine. We’ve lost lots of customers."
What? Had I heard right? I had. He really had said that. So I said, "I’m not surprised." And I told him that I would pay the 85 cents, intending (but not repeating) that I would not return. Again, it was only 85 cents and I hadn’t wanted an ugly confrontational scene, which it was beginning to be, so I figured I’d pay, leave, and simply not return.
But now he wouldn’t leave the table!
He continued to explain more reasons why the menu was right and I was wrong. I was actually beginning to shake from adrenaline because it was turning into such an ugly confrontation and he was so insistent and in my face that I was wrong. Again, I said I would pay the 85 cents, and that he didn’t need to explain any more, but for him to please go back to whatever he’d been doing.
Now incredulous, I watched as he ignored me, refused to leave the table, and continued explaining why the menu was correct and I was wrong.
I told him again that I did not need or want to hear any more and I again asked him to leave our table, this time more pointedly. Thank goodness, he did leave the table the second time he was asked.
Whew. Apparently this restaurant’s motto was a little different from my franchise, this one being something like: ‘We’re always right and we don’t care if we lose our customers to our competitors as long as we can prove to them how very right we are before they go."
The other four ladies with me agreed: we will get together for lunch again, but we will choose another restaurant next time. The restaurant lost not one but five customers. Over 85 cents.
I usually leave a generous tip because both my sister and a couple of sons have waited on tables, but I did not leave one on that occasion. I wasn’t the only lady one who didn’t.
Later that day, I called the restaurant to find out the name of the owner, as I decided that the owner might want to know (as I would have wanted to when I owned my business) of the damage their employees were causing. A gruff voice answered and, when asked, told me he was the owner. Something in his attitude, combined with the fact that I called immediately after arriving home and so guessed he’d been there when I asked to see the manager, told me the letter would be wasted on this guy. He not only knew, I suspect he was the origin of the attitude.
So I’ll tell you, instead. If you walk into a restaurant sporting oceanfront murals but still looking like a truck stop café, with Mexican food inside the menu and, on the back, FISH & CHIPS and "All orders come with one side: Fries, Salad, Coleslaw or Tator Tots," you may have just gotten a busy signal. If you listen carefully, you'll hear the soundtrack: "Take your money elsewhere. We don’t want your business."
I’m still amazed that any employee, anywhere, when told they were about to lose a customer, would reply (even if not nonchalantly and arrogantly), "That’s fine. We’ve lost lots of customers." I won’t be surprised to see them go out of business in the next few years.
I’m so glad I don’t have to work somewhere like that. I work here at home, for myself, my family, and my writing career. The employees here (that’d be Me, Myself, and I, of course) are always helpful and always want me to be happy. They almost always know the answers to the questions I ask of them, and the owner doesn’t have a gruff voice and attitude.
I hope you have a wonderful day—and that, if you encounter one of those principle-of-the-thing moments, you can be glad you spoke up, even if it seems ugly at the time. Because if you don’t, you’ll have that regret of I wish I’d said (whatever).
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
However, the nice steady weather has caused a drought-like situation. So much so we are considering a rain dance! Because I have such a long commute, I leave home at 6ish and right now that means I'm leaving in the dark. I like driving in the dark. I don't know why. And I especially like to drive in the dark in the rain. And this morning to my surprise it was raining. A soft gentle sprinkling. I found myself humming that old tune by Eddie Rabbit.
As I drive, I pray or give a marvelously insightful talk, sing along with radio or listen to talk radio depending on my mood. This morning I thought about GC and the talk on shutting the world off now and then and just living in the moment. (I’m obviously paraphrasing here.)
So I turned everything off, even my thoughts so to speak, and just listened to the rain and savored the darkness outside. And found myself thanking HF for modern conveniences. Here I am in a safe, secure, warm, dry car zipping down a well-used and well-cared for highway going 50 miles one way to a nice safe, secure, warm, dry office with light and a connection via the Internet to the world.
Shutting everything off temporarily sure brings that sense of awe and gratitude that in turn brings me so close to my HF I can almost feel His hand on my shoulder, protecting me, caring for me, loving me.
Monday, October 15, 2007
by Joyce DiPastena
Please don’t tell me you forgot! The anniversary comes around once a year. It involves cake! You didn’t forget to celebrate yesterday…did you?
What was yesterday, you ask? Why, it was Norman Conquest Day! Come on, you all remember the story. On October 14, 1066, Duke William of Normandy defeated the Saxon King Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings, becoming known to history as William the Conqueror (as well as King William I of England).
Although it has become politically correct in recent years to celebrate the “noble Saxons” and condemn the “greedy, avaricious Normans”, the simple fact is, those of us with English heritage undoubtedly have both Saxon and Norman blood running through our veins. So why not honor both sides of our ancestry? After all, if it weren’t for the Normans, we would be eating cow and pig (Saxon) at our tables, rather than beef and pork (Norman). Our police would be fighting “firen” (Saxon) instead of “crime” (Norman), and we would all have “eams” (Saxon) instead of “uncles” (Norman). Furthermore, we would be spelling words such as “question” (Norman) as “kwestion”. (Saxon…although generations of English speaking school children might have thanked the Saxons for that one!)
So if it passed you by this year, mark your calendars for 2008 and on October 14, eat a piece of cake, raise a goblet of milk (after all, it goes well with cake), shout a battle cry and celebrate…Norman Conquest Day!
Sunday, October 14, 2007
By Liz Adair
Time has a way of scrambling things in my memory, so I can’t remember if it was the ANWA conference of 2005 or 2006, but James Dashner was one of the presenters at one of them, and I attended his class. I can’t tell you a single writing principle that he taught, and I can’t say that I left the room a better plotter or dialoger or editor. What I did leave the room with was the wish that I could know this sweet, funny, gregarious, generous person better.
Vaughn loved the present and wrote me a thank you card to tell me so. He periodically hugged me spontaneously as he reported where he was and in which volume (always assuming that I had read them, which I hadn’t). He used the books as the subject of several book reports. And, he constantly asked when James Dashner was going to write another book.
Yesterday I talked to him about the Jimmy Fincher series and asked why he liked them so. He said because James Dashner gives a lot of detail and describes the landscape, and his characters are always very interesting.
I asked him who his favorite character was, and he said it was the hooded one. Jimmy calls him Hood, he said, and went on to explain that Hood couldn’t talk, but he wrote with his finger. You could never tell what he was thinking.
Vaughn said that his favorite bit of action was when they climbed down the
He said his favorite book was the last one, The War of the Black Curtain, because Jimmy had all of his powers then and got to use them to his full extent.
Now, I may have got some of the names or terms wrong. It’s been a while since Vaughn read the books, and I sprang the questions on him as he was taking care of my flower planters for me, pulling out all the petunias and planting tulip bulbs. He grinned ear-to-ear when I told him there was a new book coming out in March of 2008, and he trooped in after me, leaving his muddy shoes at the door, to check out James Dashner’s blog and see a picture of the awesome cover.
If you’d like to get to know this sweet, funny, gregarious, generous person better, this writer-of-books-that-appeal-to-boys, then go to James Dashner’s blog at http://jamesdashner.blogspot.com . I promise you it will make you smile.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Thursday, October 11, 2007
By Kari Diane Pike
My first clue that it was going to be a long night should have been the argument over the hair ties. Who would believe that a twelve and a very nearly fifteen-year- old could feud over a hair tie for more than two hours? I eventually took matters into my own hands. Later, both of the girls glowered at me when we got in the van to attend a Family Home Evening with another family in the ward, but at least they’d stopped bickering. I knew that once we arrived at our destination, the fun and friends would lighten their countenance and peace would once again prevail in the land. It’s tough to be a mom.
The next clue should have been seeing the fifteen-year-old walk away from the fun and games and sit in on the adult women discussions of childbirth, the high cost of milk, and the evils of video games. When I asked her why she wasn’t playing, she gave me that open-mouthed, wide-eyed, throwing-arms-out gesture that says with out words, “DUH!”
“Mom! Micaela is acting like a jerk. I’m staying away from her so that I won’t do or say anything inappropriate. Grrrrr…she is making me so mad!”
The other ladies and I tried to lighten her mood and find ways to include Brittany in our conversations. She expressed her opinions and joined in our laughter, but she asked what time it was about every ten minutes. When it was time to go home, she was the first one in the van. It’s tough to be fifteen.
The moment we walked into the house, Brittany grabbed up the phone, dialed her BFF (Best Female Friend) as she stomped up the stairs, and firmly shut the bedroom door behind her. A few minutes later, she came back down the stairs and asked,
“Mom, can I go to Bre’s house for a little while? Please?”
“No. It’s almost 9:00 o’clock. It’s a school night. Why are you even asking this?” I forgot I was speaking to a fifteen-year-old hormonal female. It’s tough to be a mom.
“Mom, because I don’t want to be here right now. I’m just need to talk to someone. And I’d rather be there than here.” Evidently, being fifteen is tougher than I remember.
“I’m sorry. It is a school night and you need to be at home. You can talk to me.”
Brittany rolled her eyes as she let out a heavy sigh, turned her back to me, her attention to the phone, and stomped back up the stairs to her room. The door shut with a little more force this time. I squared my shoulders and patted myself on the back for sticking to my guns and not showing how tough it is to be a mom.
A few minutes later, Brittany bounded down the stairs, still holding the phone to her ear.
“Mom! Bre says she can come to Seminary with me tomorrow. She says that if I can stay the night at her house tonight, her mom will drive us in the morning.”
I have to give her credit. The kid is good. She knows that if anything is going to get me, it’s the opportunity to share the gospel and further the missionary effort. But as tough as it is to be a mom…it’s even tougher to be fifteen.
“I’m sorry Brittany, but you know we don’t do sleepovers on school nights. We can pick Bre up in the morning. It’s time to get off the phone, get ready for family prayer, and finish your homework.”
This time Brittany’s bedroom door slammed; only to be flung open seconds later as she hurled insults and accusations at anyone who crossed her path, but directed specifically at her cold, cruel parents. At our invitation, she plopped onto our bed and declared,
“I don’t want to talk to you because I know we will just fight and I have a huge headache and all this homework to do and if you had just let me go to Bre’s house, it would all be done and I wouldn’t have the headache and I would be getting a good night’s sleep.”
I asked, “So what you’re saying is that it’s our fault your homework isn’t finished and it’s our fault that you cried so much you have a headache?”
“I didn’t say that. I just said that if you had let me go when I asked, I wouldn’t have been upset and things would have gotten done and I wouldn’t have this headache.”
“Well, I guess you should go take an ibuprofen and get to work on your homework.”
There’s more to the story; like me finally losing it and grounding her from everything. (I told you it’s tough being a mom.) In the end, I went to her room awhile after her lights turned out. I looked at my daughter curled up in her quilt with the stuffed dog she’s had since she was a toddler; a pair of nylons draped across the end of the white iron daybed. A Super Man poster reflected red, yellow and blue from the light in the hallway. I gazed at her face, noticing that the little girl freckles across the bridge of her nose are fading with her blossoming. I wanted to reach out and brush her side bangs from her eyes, but I didn’t want to wake her. I prayed in my heart that this woman-child would feel and know how much she is loved and cared for. I heard a soft sniffle. I touched her hair with my fingertips.
“I love you, Brittany,” I whispered.
“I love you, too, Mom.”
Being a mom is a miracle.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
I also read almost every bit of 'The Relief Society Magazine', though I usually skipped all the lessons except the one on literature. It also had a serial story, with a new one beginning as soon as the last one ended. I still remember parts from these stories. That phased out when they started publishing the lessons in a separate manual. Remember when we met on a week day and studied Theology, Literature, Sociology, and on the second week had a work meeting? Later it changed to Spiritual Living, Homemaking, Cultural Refinement (literature and art) and Social Studies (lands and people). It was claimed (and I believe it) that if you attended Relief Society for ten years and studied the lessons each week, you would have the equivalent of a college education. I think I learned more about teaching in the Sunday School Teacher Development classes than I did getting an MA in Education at ASU.
By the time I finished Primary, I discovered 'The Instructor', published for the Sunday School, if my memory can be trusted, There were pictures and instructions, but no fiction that I remember. On the back for as long as I can recall, Marvin Ashton had an article that always inspired me. Decades later, when I was asked to serve as "Chaplain" in the Biloxi, Mississippi PTA, I used his articles for my monthly short talks, and quite impressed them. I suppose I was, in effect, plagiarizing when I didn't give him proper credit.
I suppose I could look up the date, but somewhere, long after I married, 'The Children's Friend' became just 'The Friend.' I heard that it was because some other publisher claimed to have used that title before the church did, so we dropped the 'Children's' part. I think it was about the same time 'The Improvement Era' became the 'Ensign'. I remember thinking how old-fashioned my mother was when she said "N-sign". She ought to have known about 'en-suns'. After all, my brother was one in the Navy. Then, one day I read the fine print in the publication info in the Ensign and discovered my mother was right. I even looked it up in the dictionary, and found that an ensign (EN-sign) is a flag or standard, while (EN-sun) is a Navy rank. I've noticed the pronunciation has for some time been dropped from the fine print. I suppose they gave it up as a losing battle, for I still hear lots of rank when one speaks of the church magazine. Oh well, why worry? I still know what they mean. (It's rather like hearing one end a talk aimed at us, the congregation, with "in the name of thy son. . ." My son? Hardly. But again, I know the intent.)
I miss the fiction, especially the serial novels in past publications. Even during the great depression, Mother managed to have subscriptions to 'Ladies' Home Journal', 'Woman's Home Companion', "McCalls', 'Saturday Evening Post', and 'Reader's Digest'. Our home library was quite small, probably not much more than a hundred volumes, and the small school library was about the only other source for reading, but I never felt deprived. Nearly every magazine published short stories and one serial novel, usually the first published appearance for an upcoming book by the most popular writers of the day, like Kathleen Norris. The Reader's Digest had a condensed book in the back. Remember when the index was on the front cover? And no advertising? Nowadays I get so annoyed at the cardstock inserts in magazines that it's difficult to leaf through and browse. I tear them all out without allowing myself to even see what they are about. I'm tempted to mail the pre-paid postcards, unfilled, in protest.
Because Mother could not resist encouraging business attempts by any young person, she also subscribed to 'Grit', a weekly newspaper with a fiction supplement in the middle. I remember reading about Scattergood Baines in almost every issue.
In 1984 I attended an NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) seminar at Longwood College in Farmville, VA, on Serial Novels. In the five weeks, we read four novels simultaneously, just like they were first published: Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickelby, George Elliot's Middlemarch, William James' Portrait of a Lady, the three of which we all read, and one assigned to read on our own. Mine was A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy. My husband went with me, but he didn't get to attend the classes. However, he did all the reading. Indeed, not once, but three times he read so steadily that his self-winding watch stopped! I won a contest for writing a class song, and have a replica of the six issues of Dickens' 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood', the novel he was working on when he died, dated April through September, 1870. Eleven years before my father was born.
Remember when the movie theaters had a continued cliff-hanger movie to entice us to come back the next week? We've moved on to instant gratification, and speed. Maybe it's progress, but sometimes, I wonder.
This summer my mother-in-law's 90th birthday became the topic of discussion. For most of her life she has never wanted us to make much of her birthdays. No parties, no gifts, nothing. All she wanted from her children was a phone call, and what she wanted to hear, was not the usual "happy birthday," but rather, "Tell me about yourself. What are you doing these days? How are you?" The conversations usually centered around us, not the birthday girl. That's why it came as such a shock when she asked for a birthday party for her 90th. We were ecstatic! Now we could honor this grand lady with a celebration she deserved. The families made plans to travel to Orem, Utah.
A few weeks, my sister-in-law asked us to chip in on a gift for Mom. Of course, we would be happy to go in on a gift, since it would be the first one in years. We eagerly waited to hear what sort of item Mom wanted. When Loretta said, "Mom wants a head stone," we nearly fell over.
"A head stone?" I asked my husband. "That's what she really wants?" I couldn't believe she would ask for something so morbid. I thought we were celebrating her life. DeWalt explained to me that his dad's headstone (he'd been buried over 16 years ago) is crumbling and has not held up well at all. Still the thought of a head stone made me shudder. Why not one of those digital photo frames where you can program a slide show for family viewing. I balked at the idea, but knew that Mom's practicality would light on the idea of something solid like this.
The weekend of the party arrived. We showed up on her doorstep a day early so that we could steal a little visiting with her without the mob. Sarah, her granddaughter (my daughter) brought her violin along and played for her, and then Sarah played some selections on the piano. The boys shared their activities with her. Instead of Mom being the center of attention, all she wanted was for us to tell us and show us what we had been up to. Before we left she went to a back room and brought out a step stool DeWalt (her little boy) had made when he was in junior high and gave it to him. That stool has seen numerous little feet, and the worn spot where they stood attests to the legacy of lessons taught from this loving mother. Who would have thought that a project made by a 13 year old boy would have literally stood the test of time?
The next afternoon, between conference sessions we gathered at Chuck-O-Rama, a buffet restaurant. Over 50 of her posterity gathered in a back room where we honored her. As I thought about the head stone she had requested, I realized that this truly would be a gift of love. This enduring piece of granite will stand as monument to my husband's parents of the legacy they leave behind.
The little stool now resides in my bathroom for other little feet who will be spending Friday night with me. A small legacy compared to the headstone, but my own little monument to the legacy I want to leave for my posterity.
Monday, October 8, 2007
During the years I was involved in a medical practice, I wondered what the qualities of a good physician were. The implication was that if I knew what a “good physician” was, I could adopt those same qualities and I too, would be a good physician. I dutifully noted what I saw and liked in this doctor or that one, and worked them into a kind of collage of traits that I put on like my white lab coat.
The funny thing about all of this is that every doctor thinks he or she is a good doctor. Sir William Osler, a great teacher and physician from a hundred years ago, speaking to a graduating class of medical students, said
Curious, odd compounds are these fellow-creatures, at whose
mercy you will be; full of fads and eccentricities, of whims and
fancies; but the more closely we study their little foibles of one
sort and another in the inner life which we see, the more surely
is the conviction borne in upon us of the likeness of their weaknesses
to our own. The similarity would be intolerable if a happy egotism did not often render us forgetful of it.
It is that same, happy egotism that permits us to write. The idea that I have something worthwhile to say, to commit to the written page and therefore to a form of permanence comes from knowledge that my experience is unique, that my thoughts and observations are skewed by who I am, and that frankly, they are not insignificant.
Sometimes, during a day in the office seeing patients, I would have pangs of identification – that oh, boy, that could be me on the examination table, but fortunately, it isn’t: that I, too, am subject to ordinariness, to illness, to being just like everyone else in mortal vulnerability. In practicing medicine, that wasn’t a useful paradigm and I had to learn to move on, to put on again the physician’s egotistic shell of knowledge and skill.
Likewise, I believe with writing the death knell to forward motion on the keyboard and a growing manuscript is the thought that what I’m writing has no merit, that it is mundane, like everything else out there and therefore of no worth. This is not a helpful thought.
The problem is that at times, however, either perspective is bound to be true. Sometimes, just ask me, my writing is so wonderful it could make stars dance. At others, well, to quote Mark Twain in Tom Sawyer, perhaps the best thing to do is draw the sweet curtain of compassion over this scene.
The truth is that neither point of view is going to get the job done, but probably the most helpful perspective is the one that reminds you that you can do it. You have worked to acquire skills. You have learned how to spell and where to put commas, how to construct a paragraph, how to write a cunningly successful hook and how to describe a beach in Malibu. And whizzing through all that wonderful gray and white matter in your brain are circuits of memory and invention and putting them together creates stuff – a little raw and unprocessed, perhaps, but nonetheless unique and charming and worthy to decorate a page.
If it takes a few mind games to confront the blank page with your own witty observations and win, what is wrong with a dose of Osler’s happy egotism?
I have decided to make it real, to see it as I would my white lab coat which, whenever I put it on, means I am really good at this writing business.
But I don’t have to wear it all the time. That’s the key. Sometimes, I can take it off, take a deep breath, give my fingers a rest and just be ordinary.
Sunday, October 7, 2007
I love General Conference.
This morning, as I watched (watched!) the proceedings from the Conference Center on BYU TV via satellite in the comfort of my living room and my pajamas, I reflected back on my childhood, when we didn't enjoy the miracles of today. I think we were able, from time to time, to listen to a session on the radio, but I don't have any memories of my family sitting around the radio doing that, so I may be wrong. Maybe we didn't have a radio all the time. I know we didn't have a television.
If I remember correctly, during my childhood, the only reliable way to listen to General Conference was to go to Salt Lake City and sit in the Tabernacle or the Assembly Hall, or perhaps a certain stake center. There was no television broadcast. There were no satellites at stake centers. There was no Internet as we know it.
We lived in Arizona, so we didn't make it to Conference very often. I can recall one trip when I was seven or eight years old. I don't remember going to the Tabernacle, though. We must have listened at a stake center.
I do remember that we always had a subscription to the Church's magazine (oh, help me with the name), the one that came before The Ensign. Was it The Improvement Era, or was that the youth magazine?
Anyway, in those days we had to wait three months for the issue with the Conference talks to come. That's right, three months. I particularly liked the annual issue that had the Church leaders' pictures in the middle. You could take it out and put it on the wall, and we did that. My parents encouraged us to read the messages from the prophet, his counselors, and the twelve apostles. I believe we discussed them in family meetings.
When I went on my mission, if we could get access to a radio with shortwave capacity at a member's home, we could listen to Conference. By this time, if you had a cooperating television station in your town, you could watch Conference, but that didn't happen in South America.
When audio cassette tapes appeared in the world, the Church made sets of the Conference talks available. If you could afford it, you could relive Conference anytime you wanted to.
By and by, I married, and eventually, a miracle happened. The Church started to put satellite dishes up outside stake centers in the United States. We could go to the stake center on both Saturday and Sunday and watch Conference! What a remarkable blessing that was! I required my children to attend at least one of the two Sunday sessions. I went to the Saturday sessions as often as I could.
Along came video technology, and you could order sets of video tapes with the talks. What a remarkable thing! Computer typesetting brought us the Conference talks in The Ensign in May and November, only a month after the Conference. But, now you don't even have to wait that long. By next Thursday, you can go to the Internet and all the talks will be posted on the Church's website. You can also order DVDs of the Conference.
Where I live I don't have a broadband Internet connection like I did in the Valley, where I could watch streaming video of the sessions. I believe I can get the audio version, though. As I mentioned before, I have satellite television and watch Conference on BYU TV. That's certainly more upllifting than the TV station that broadcasts loud cartoon shows between Conference sessions. It is a great blessing and a wonder to me.
God continues to bless the lives of His children with innumerable advances in technology that bring the words of the prophets into our lives in immediate and miraculous ways. It's up to us to take advantage of our miracles to partake of the Spirit. It is my hope that we will do so, on this and each Conference weekend.
Saturday, October 6, 2007
I took a class at a national writers conference called the Alpha Male, taught by an author named Jane Porter. With a name like that, she couldn’t help but love Tarzan, or rather, his type: the ultimate Alpha Male.
She taught some great tips I’d like to pass along, much of this post comes directly from my notes from her class. There are, of course, alpha males who are villains, but I will focus only on the alpha heroes, the good guys of the story.
The Alpha Hero is Top Dog
In a wolf pack, there is always only one Alpha Male. In Disney’s cartoon version of Tarzan, when Kerchek was wounded, Tarzan jumped in to protect the family and Kerchek from the leopard, Sabore, who was trying to harm them. He later takes over that role as the leader of the family.
He’s usually bigger, stronger, more focused and more self-sufficient.
He’s also sometimes wounded, either in body or heart because he’s often impacted by external change, often tragic.
He is often alone. Think of the classic cowboy who rides into town, rights a wrong, and rides off into the sunset. There isn’t much room at the top, and he keeps his emotions carefully locked away.
They are referred to as the strong, silent type. Men typically talk less than women, with a few notable exceptions, but the Alpha Male will let his actions speak for him.
He cares little for public opinion because he has his own internal sense of justice, or code of honor. He may fall sometimes, but he will never be broken.
The Alpha Hero Never Runs from a Fight
He’s extremely driven to right injustice and to protect those he loves, or those over whom he has stewardship. He’s the one who would say “I couldn’t not act.”
They never worry about dying, they assume they will, but they will fight as long as they live.
They often cannot explain their motives and typically don’t care to discuss them even if they understand them.
The alpha male will never leave someone in peril. Or if they feel they should leave (against their better judgment, it will tear them up and they will either ‘come to their senses’ and return, or avenge themselves in some way.)
The Alpha Hero Has Tremendous Emotional Appeal
The closer someone gets to what, or who, the alpha hero cherishes, the more guarded he becomes. That which makes him strong, makes him weak, too. That’s why they are so fiercely protective of the women, children, families they love. They often view them as their vulnerable spot, and worry that their enemies will strike at them by harming their loved ones.
This is why the alpha hero appeal so much to women; they are an emotional fantasy. Women want to be respected, cherished, protected. The Alpha Hero can’t find the haven he wants without his heroine. His emotions are locked up until he meets her. She saves him from loneliness and despair, and she provides comfort. He would never abandon his mate, even if he must temporarily move physically away.
The Alpha Hero is a Sophisticated Lover
Think James Bond. They are cool, suave, have tremendous control and confidence and are larger than life. He would never use brute force or domination. He has a keen wit and is extremely intelligent.
There must be chemistry between the alpha hero and his heroine. The female is never UNaware of him. He has lots of energy, even when he’s at rest. He is very confident and expects others to give in because he is very persuasive.
Love Transforms The Alpha Hero
He appears tough, jaded and rough on the outside, but he is tender and deeply feeling deep, deep inside.
He has a predatory instinct and will protect and defend at all costs, even his own live. Because he is so loyal and protective, he will watch other people’s back, and always protect those who are weak and cannot fight, and all women and children.
He will also help prepare boys to become men, sort of a mentor, or offer words of wisdom.
He doesn’t need perfect harmony, but he needs to complete his mission before he can move on. He would never leave unfinished business.
The Alpha Hero Needs an Alpha Female
He will go to the ends of the earth for the right woman. An alpha female is intelligent and a woman of strong convictions, who will not be bullied into going against her principles. She is someone who will protect home and children while he is away and become fierce when those she loves are threatened. She’s is the perfect Mother Bear protecting her cubs. He cannot have home and family without her there to watch his back.
So, how do we use the Alpha Male in writing?
Work his flaws; pride, stubbornness, unyielding, won’t accept other’s help or sacrifice, difficulty accepting love, and difficulty expressing emotions – they speak physically rather than verbally. We must give them external conflict to confront. Force them to choose between two worthy causes, or between their honor and their heart. I heard once that to create a good story, we should strand our characters up in a tree with no way to climb down and then throw rocks at them. Seeing them find a way to overcome their trials is the stuff of good stories. The Alpha Male will always triumph; he will never fail because he will never give up.
Friday, October 5, 2007
Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to find more ways to write for more income. I kept asking myself: Which avenue should I follow? Where should I submit? Who should I write for? It was a challenge. So as I searched around for more places to contribute, I read about financial successes from financial consultants and thought about what I could do to improve upon my situation.
This is what I have learned: Think about what you would like to accomplish over the next few years. What is it that you want to do in your life that you can enjoy and be successful? After considering this in your mind, then come up with a sentence you can remember and repeat in your mind. For example, since I have wanted to find more writing jobs and become a fulltime writer, I came up with this sentence: “My writing will bring me more income.” I thought about this every day since and continue to repeat it in my mind. I put it on the mirror in my bathroom. I read it in my morning pages I try to write everyday. It has brought great results. I now have an editorial column in the local paper each week called “Thoughts From the Heart.” Not only has it helped me find more writing work, it has had a positive affect on my outlook on life. I’m happier trying to find more writing work and feel more fulfilled.
Another suggestion was to write 21 reasons why you want to do whatever it is you decide to do. It was difficult to think of that many and I only came up with seven reasons to write but they were all good reasons. I add to the list as I think of them. This list should be posted in a place where you can read it every day to remind yourself of your purpose.
It was amazing to me how you can think about something in your mind for so long and have it affect you in such a positive way. I suppose by the same token you can do that with negative thoughts as well. That’s why we should focus on the positive. We have always been told to focus on the positive from counselors and therapists but I don’t think I believed it. I know I didn’t believe it until I tried it myself. Positive thinking really does have a positive affect on thinking positively.
So the first order of the day when you get up in the morning is to think positive thoughts about what you need to accomplish each day. Make a list if that is possible. If you are fighting depression--which many people do-- and you don’t want to have positive thoughts then pray to have them. Even if it’s just one. You can build on that and feel better about what you do.
The world is such a hard place to live, as past blog entries have suggested, but we can rise above all that and make our own little world a positive place. Kind of like Peter Pan’s idea. Think positive (happy) thoughts.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Today I am overwhelmed by how hard life can be. Not just for me, though it has certainly been that this past year and a half (please, please, please can 2008 be a kinder, gentler year...). But for everyone.
My husband and I are still mourning the death of his mother. We’re still inviting his father over for dinner and Institute classes and anything we can think of to help keep him busy, and so are my husband’s siblings.
I’m still mourning the death of my father last year. And, on a more humorous note, after all the after-death graspings by his unfortunately still-wife (though they’d filed and both wanted a divorce, it wasn’t final yet), it was time to write my father’s one-year anniversary thing in the newspaper. Though there was only space for ‘We miss you, love’ and our names, my sisters and I really laughed over what we wanted to put: ‘You hid the treasure really good, Dad. Paula hasn’t found it yet.’ (It’s a joke. There was no treasure. Though he’d made a fortune during his lifetime, he died a pauper.)
Sometimes you have to laugh so you don’t cry, right?
We have children who give us heartache, from skinned knees to unwanted pregnancies, learner’s permits to DUI, thinking we hung the moon to wanting nothing to do with us (and, no, my children have not done all of this, but many children have, and my children have done many of these).
People we love die. They turn away from us and from God. They do things to hurt themselves (and us, because we care).
I figured out once that, if God’s day is like 1000 Earth years, and if we live to be 80 Earth years, then when we were talking about coming down here, we were talking about three hours. And so we jumped for joy, because we figured we could handle three hours. No big deal, right? And then the unknown concept of TIME hit us like a brick wall.
There are a few things that have gotten me through the past couple of years with my sanity intact. One is that I know I am a child of God, and He loves me and cares for me. Another is my husband’s love, which I have grown to cherish more and more. And next is my writing. I know God gave me the talent for a purpose and I agreed (as I was leaping for joy) to use my talent in His service. Luckily, I can lose myself in my plots, my characters, my joy-filled exuberant drecky first drafts, my polished final drafts. I can distract myself from my pain by knowing that my books are going to touch people and I am serving others by writing them. (Now that’s service I can perform with a smile.)
I’m glad to have other writers with whom I can network. (Whom is such a weird word; whom on earth invented it? : )
Anyway, today is a day of reflection for me. Of all I am thankful for. Of all I wish I could change and can only pray about. Of all I can smile about, even though there is pain all around me.
I have a little plaque (I almost typed plague – now that would have been funny) hanging in my office that says ‘Life is hard ... but God is good.’ Life truly is hard. And God truly is good.