Hats and Cornbread

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Thursday I had lunch with some men I used to work with. It was a nice lunch despite the fact that we had gathered to bid Mark farewell as he enters the next chapter of his life. We talked about old times and the people we knew (Are your ears burning, Scott Carter or Laurie Walters?), but you’d never believe our most popular topics of conversation: recipes, cookbooks, and the food our grandmothers and mothers used to prepare.

I’m not sure why the conversation kept coming back to food and families, but I have a hunch that the approaching holiday season might have something to do with it. Whether gatherings with kith and kin are pleasant or merely endured, there’s still a bit of nostalgia associated with them. Will Aunt Lisa bring macaroni and cheese? And can we count on Cuz Katherine for the brown rice? Will there be reminiscing about days of yore? You can bet on it.

Mark and Jim chatted about cookbooks and recipe pages that became so spattered with the cooks’ ingredients that they eventually had to be protected with plastic in order to preserve them. Mark spoke of a 1 2 3 4 cake because of the numbers and/or amounts of ingredients (1 cup, 2 teaspoons, etc.). Unfortunately, he couldn’t recall the recipes precisely but agreed to ask his mother. The men waxed poetic in their descriptions of 16-Layer Cake and coconut candy.

And me? I mostly listened and thought of my own favorite holiday foods and the cooks, past and present, who prepared them. I also thought of how bonding the experience of sharing food, the very sustenance of life, can be. And naturally I thought of our local writing group’s anthology, Serving Up Memory. Little did Mark and Jim know that they were reinforcing the group’s shared feelings that a recipe is so much more than a list of instructions on a page.

Here’s an excerpt from “Hats and Cornbread” that I wrote about my mother’s fudge. My mother was an excellent cook. As a child, every single Christmas I’d sneak into the kitchen, quietly remove the top of the fudge tin, nab a piece of creamy fudge with pecans, move the other pieces around so that she’d never notice the missing piece, replace the lid, and run out the back door before anyone knew what I was up to. Out of eyesight, I’d pop that heavenly confection in my mouth and savor its delicious sweetness before nonchalantly waltzing back in.

When I submitted “Hats and Cornbread” for critiquing by the group, I expected to hear several recommendations for change. Pen in hand, I was primed to take notes on whatever the members had to say. Surprisingly, there were very few suggestions. The consensus was that the story, though personal, had universal application.

Now that the anthology is officially “done,” I can state without exception that every piece in the collection meets that same criteria. All will resonate with readers’ hearts and psyches. So glad we slogged through (an oft-repeated phrase throughout the process) and completed this book.

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Push the Button

As I sat at Kathryn Lovatt’s kitchen table Tuesday morning previewing what we thought was our absolute final upload of Serving Up Memory, I said,” I think I’m gonna cry.”

Alarmed, she stopped what she was doing at the counter behind me and asked, “Why? Is something wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong. It’s just that, well, it all looks so pretty.”

“Pretty?”

“Well, you know. Clear and crisp and between the lines.”

“That’s a relief, “ she said as she resumed her lunch preparations for two friends. We were riding high that morning and felt positive that this was IT! She had friends coming by from Southport and I was meeting a Sumter friend at Mickey Dee’s. We knew that what we had to do would take an hour—tops. (I hope someone notices that I successfully included that em dash. Whether it’s used correctly, I don’t know.)

And then I saw something that made my heart sink.  After carefully centering the photograph on page 140, we decided to give it a caption, Tree Love. However, upon closer inspection, we could clearly see that Tree Love looked foreign. What were those letters? Turns out the caption was upside down, and regardless of our many manipulations, nothing budged. We gave up and just deleted the caption.

Running late for lunch, I scooted to McDonald’s to meet my friend. As soon as possible, I hustled back over to Kathryn’s, and we corrected, reviewed, and uploaded the most recent edition of our anthology. While looking at it on the digital previewer, we noticed that one of her favorite pictures, Sunrise at Scott Park, was inching towards the gutter.

We stared at the screen and then at each other. I knew that look. It said, “Push the button.” So I did.

Last night one of the group’s members sent an email saying that she felt a bit emotional when looking at a copy she received yesterday. “I misted all up.  Don’t know why, but I just was suddenly hit with how beautiful that this all came together.” I know the feeling.

And she wasn’t even looking at the most recent version.

About three weeks ago, a professional copy editor volunteered to look at our anthology, and she sent pages and pages of suggested changes. At first we were daunted, but after about five minutes we realized what a favor she had done for us. We took deep breaths, squared our shoulders, and went to work. Just to give you an example of how far we’ve come, here are a few of Beth Crosby’s recommendations. Note that these all relate to the same thing: overuse of a word. Who knew? That’s just one reason why we appreciate Beth’s sharp eye and expertise.

So here in the second line, we have the first “concoction” of six to follow.
I’m happy to change this to something else, but consider the following:
Page 102 – leave as is
 Page 111 – 5th line – change here to “mixture”
 Page 116 – bottom ¶, line 2, change “concocted” to “created”
Page 117 – line 6 – change here to “confection
Page 128 – 2nd¶, last line, leave as i
Page 162 – 3rd ¶, line 4 – not sure here, Jayne, as you used the phrase “culinary concoction” on page 128 – what do you think

Summative statement: The anthology is a labor of love compiled, edited, and revised more times than I can recall. When I say “love,” I’m referring to love of story, love of ancestors, love of traditions, love for writing, and love for our finished product. Are we ready to start Part II. Yes, I think so. Maybe you’ll consider contributing your story.

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Let It Go, Let It Go

I’m excited, yet tentatively so. Anyone who knows anything about the local writers’ anthology, Serving Up Memory, knows that we’ve been working on it day and night for several weeks. Before then, we worked on it a bit less frequently—say, every other day.

Our latest edition is again available on Amazon, and you’d think we’d be doing a happy dance. Well, we are. We really are, BUT last night I saw a photograph that’s way off-center on page 140. My heart sank. It’s not exactly in the gutter, but it’s close. Then a closer looked revealed that although all chapter titles are Lucida 18, two of them are bolded. Why? And how did that happen? And does it really matter? Yes and no.

The tiny errors are just that, tiny errors. They don’t detract one iota from the quality of the stories, poems, or photographs. In fact, some of the photographs are so good that they tell stories of their own, sans words. The ones I’ve included with this post are proof. How I would have enjoyed talking to the woman with the dog! She was strong, feisty, wise, and hard-working. And that photo of the four columns represents a lot of living and loving and ultimately a big heartache.

Because we chose to self-publish this anthology using CreateSpace, we have the freedom and opportunity to tweak and reupload our work as many times as we want to. That’s a mixed blessing. It enables us to keep perfecting our product, but at the same time, it prevents us from saying DONE. Until we can say that word in unison, we can’t move on with our lives—or at least with our other projects.

This morning I’m remembering that after God created this ol’ world, he saw that it was very good—not perfect, but very good. That’s how I feel about our anthology. It is good, very good, but it does have that off-center picture, and I’m sure that some critical eye might spy a missing comma or something. BUT if you want to read some stories that, though personal, are universal in meaning, check out our anthology. The pieces will touch the hearts and minds of all readers, especially those with Southern roots.

For now, Kathryn, the senior editor, and I plan to reconvene later today to fix that picture, and then we’re going to “let it go, let it go.”

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A Final Word

Good, bad, or somewhere in-between, a blog post is happening this morning. Although I’ve enjoyed working on our Camden Writers’ book, Serving Up Memory, I’ve missed the actual writing process.

I looked at Kathryn Lovatt, our senior editor,  yesterday and said something profound like, “I’m ready to get back to my own stuff.”And I am. So is she. One of the members in our group, Laura Lilly, is writing a novel this month, and Kathryn is thinking of doing the same. Me? I can’t/don’t write fiction (at least not yet), but I understand that nonfiction is acceptable too. Later today, I’ll be looking up those guidelines.

But now I want to share a short update on the anthology’s status and a story that I recalled yesterday. We’ve been working pretty much every single day, sometimes for six hours at a stretch to take care of each pesky little error. Lest you think that our product was flawed, it was not—and is not. (My group will be impressed that I could insert that em dash.)

Some people would not have even recognized errors, but we did. Example: All numbers from one to one hundred are spelled out according to The Chicago Manual of Style. We’re changing numerals to words when and where we can, BUT if doing so throws off the pagination, we’re not. We’re putting captions under most of the photographs but not all. For instance, one member does not want them under his pictures, and some, like advertisements, don’t need them.

Finally, the update. We’re uploading again tomorrow. Then again, we might wait until we look at the physical proofs that should arrive Monday. In any case, if our book is not available on Amazon again by this time next week (or before), then please contact one of us and say, “Let it go!”

With the dawning realization that readers might find fault with some of our editorial decisions, I decided to write an afterword last week. Or should I call it an epilogue? Kathryn suggested “A Final Word,” and I thought that was a perfect title. Below are a couple of paragraphs from it.

The process from inception to fruition has been a roller coaster ride from excitement to despair and confidence to doubt. When there was a disagreement about whether a comma should stay or go or whether a word should or should not be capitalized, a phrase separated by a dash or a colon, we used Google and referred to sources such as The Chicago Manual of Style.

Even then, we occasionally went in another direction. If contributors had strong feelings about something, we deferred in order to preserve the integrity of the individual writer’s work. The editorial process was indeed a balancing act between absolute correctness and respect for the artist’s voice. Along the way, we’ve learned many invaluable lessons.

Yesterday I remembered something my mother wrote about me in my baby book. I don’t have the book in front of me right now so I’m paraphrasing. “Jane doesn’t like to be reprimanded or told what to know. She knows better than to talk back, so she stands behind a door and mutters all sorts of things so that she can have the last word.”

Since the book is about memories of people and events that shaped our lives, “A Final Word” is yet another nod to my sweet mother.

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Tender Age Five

Several days have passed since I wrote the previous post, the one that shared our book’s nagging little issues but expressed optimism that every missing word and extra comma would be taken care of in no time flat.  I’m still optimistic, but now I’m adding tired to the list.

Who knew that editing could be so grueling, especially the third time around? Every new set of eyes spies something that others have missed. Thanks to Nick for spotting the tiny missing word in this sentence: “In 1947, at the tender age five, my best friend and I were playing ball in the yard.” Can you see what’s missing? Would you believe that five or six people had already proofread this piece before it went to press?

So today finds me back in the trenches. Naturally, our writing group wants to turn out a quality product that will be enjoyed by all of our would-be readers, so I’m going through four lists of errors submitted by group members and deciding which can and will be corrected and which won’t. For instance, I can turn WWI into WW I, but I can’t change the font or caps of captions in Word. Okay, maybe I can, but I can’t stop this train for a tutorial, especially when there are more major, yet fixable, mistakes.

This evening I’ll be changing concoction to confection and concocting to creating. Until we had read the anthology from cover to cover we didn’t realize how many times some version of that concocting word had been used. Still, it’s a labor of love and one that we’re all committed to sharing in the most perfect way we can.

On the plus side, we got a lot of positive comments on our cover at the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop Conference this weekend. I wasn’t in the session in which it was projected on a screen for all to see and critique, but from what I heard, the presenter of the session had only one suggestion: too much blank space on the front. People noticed the excessive pixelation but weren’t put off by it.

I now have a 300 dpi version of the cover photograph, an idea of how to jazz up that blank space on the front, and an awareness of the “should should” on the back cover. By the time Serving Up Memory is again available on Amazon (October 30), the cover will speak to the reader’s soul in a way that says home, hearth, warmth, welcome, and love sweet love.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that I was a bit tired. One of the Conference presenters, Bob Mayer, said that sometimes you just have to let it go and send the work out into the world. You can tweak, proof, rewrite, correct, and reread a manuscript to death, but there comes a time when you must walk away from the computer and let it go. That will be this week.

 

 

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It’s A Wrap

memory cover

This post is a continuation of Monday’s and is about creating and publishing a book using Amazon’s CreateSpace. All things considered, it was a delightful experience despite our several challenges. What made the process more pleasant and doable was the customer service we received from CreateSpace.

I’ll share more on the exceptional cadre of young men and women who guided us, but for today, my goal is to wrap up the telling of our experience so that I can move on to the book itself: why we did it and why you should and could do it too.

After our marathon day of reading, editing, and correcting, we took a two-day break and met again. This time the number of proofers had fallen to three, mainly because we were confident that we had this thing in the bag. How naïve we were! We three actually thought we were practically done.

As we proofed and revised that afternoon, we found several tiny but significant errors that had to be corrected. For example, I had put the wrong verse for a scripture in Hebrews, and if Doug hadn’t caught it, a reader might have gone to the source and discovered something entirely different. At last we adjourned, and Kathryn and I set a time to meet the next day—and then the next and the next.

Towards the end of the week (it’s all a blur now), we thought, “It’s a wrap.” Gleefully, we uploaded the manuscript to CreateSpace, and all was going smoothly until we came to the cover step. Since our cover was in three PDF files instead of one, our cover wouldn’t work—no way, no how. Our cover creator was in Chicago, so we tossed around some ideas and then decided to call it quits for the evening.

The next morning appeared, bright and beautiful and crisp, and our enthusiasm waxed strong. At long last, we uploaded a fine cover to accompany the anthology and pushed the magic button, the one that sets a manuscript on its way to publication. After 24 hours we learned that the document had met the publication standards, and Kathryn ordered copies for an upcoming SCWW conference and for our group members.

Many of us received our copies yesterday, and we LOVE them. Yes, there are a few niggling issues, but they are all easy to fix. The cover photo looks too pixelated, should is written twice on the back cover (should should), and a few places need to be bolded. None of these errors are huge, but since we want our book to be one that everyone who reads it will enjoy, we’re going to correct everything next week.

About those corrections, one of the many things I like about self-publishing is that the author can revise and re-upload as many times as her heart desires. While that might seem like a hassle to some people, my writer friends and I feel that it’s preferable to having obvious errors. I’m not saying Serving Up Memory will be absolutely perfect this time next week, but I am saying that it will meet our tough standards.

My next post will be about the motive for writing this book and the reasons why you should consider writing one too.

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Cheers, Dears!

It’s done! Cheers, Dears. Yep, we “put the baby to bed” last week, the baby being the anthology that our local writers’ group has been working on since January. Were there trials? Yes. Was it hard work? Another yes. Would we do it again if we knew then what we know now? A resounding yes.

The seed for Serving Up Memory was planted last October at.the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop’s (SCWW)  annual conference in Columbia. In addition to soaking up some good information in the sessions I attended, I also chatted with Steve Gordy, a member of the Aiken Chapter of SCWW, and gained some inspiration for a writing project.

Steve was quite enthusiastic about a book his writing group, The Aiken Scribblers, had created and published. As soon as he showed me the cover of Nights of Horseplay, I knew I had to have a copy of this fascinating collection of stories compiled by the group. From Amazon: You say you don’t believe in magic? Then come along with us and you’ll find yourself in a place where magical experiences are a part of the fabric of life.  

Lucky for me, Steve just happened to have a few copies for sale at the conference, and as I thumbed through one, I became intrigued with the idea of the Camden group producing its own book. I asked Steve a number of questions to which he graciously replied, and while chatting with him, I began to think, “We can do this.”

Steve promised to be of assistance if we decided to tackle the project, and with that promise in mind, I approached the group with the idea. It was November by this time, and everyone was busy with seasonal activities and disinclined to even think about putting a book together. Unwilling to let the idea die, I brought it up again, and soon we met for a brainstorming session one Saturday morning at Kathryn’s house.

Kathryn was familiar with the Foxfire books that originated with a high school teacher’s writing assignment, and she suggested that we look into that approach. Other people suggested a book of holiday memories. And then the artist of the group suggested inserting photographs. Before we went our separate ways that chilly day, we were unsure of our specific focus, and yet we were united in our desire to just do it.

Submissions for our book began to appear during the spring, and we set early August as the deadline for manuscripts. As work flowed in and members critiqued one another’s work, we saw a pattern developing. Many of the stories had to do with hearth and home, the ties that bind. Most stories took place in the South, but one took place in Germany and continued to live in the heart of the Camdenite who wrote about it.

A Saturday in September brought the group back to Kathryn’s house to consider organization of contents, set up a strict timeline for completion, and choose a title. That day, Laura and I divided the manuscript into four chapters; a few days later Kathryn and I revised it into six. After choosing the contents for each chapter, we then decided it would be a nice touch to have an opening photograph with each chapter title. And why not a quote too?

The gun went off, and the race to meet a specific deadline was on. I felt excited, nervous, and a little whelmed—not overwhelmed yet, just whelmed. As the days turned into weeks, there were moments when I wondered why I had introduced the idea. But then I’d read something that a writer had submitted and think, “This is a story that needs to be told.”

I’ve read that 500 words is tops for a blog post, and since I’ve already crossed that line, I’m reluctantly ending this tale for today. I’ll continue the group’s march towards publication tomorrow, and hopefully, you’ll be inspired to create your own book.

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Crossing Over

I’m pretty psyched up tonight. A little anxious too. Tomorrow I’m going to speak to a group of men about what it takes to be successful in a two-year college. Although I’ve talked to students about college success for decades, tomorrow is different in one major way. The men are using Crossing the Bridge: Succeeding in a Community College and Beyond as their text.

The program coordinator and I have talked several times, and what he’d like for me to speak about tomorrow is the importance of personal choice and commitment.

“No problem,” I assured Mr. Murphy. “I latched on to Sartre’s, ‘I am my choices’ 40 years ago and have never let go.”

He also wants me to elaborate a little on being intentional. Although dictionary definitions vary, my use of intentional means purposeful and deliberate. From Crossing the Bridge, here are the chapter openings:

  1. This is your life. Be intentional about discovering the attributes that make you unique, the ones that will help you to choose the right college major and live a more effective and satisfying life.
  2. An education is the ticket to a better life. Be intentional about getting the right degree or certificate from the college that will best prepare you for your future.
  3. Don’t be lukewarm or lackadaisical about taking that first step. Regardless of obstacles, be intentional in doing the things you need to do to begin your college career.
  4. You’ve come a long way to get here, and now it’s time for class…and for homework, studying, and time management. Keep your end goal in mind and be intentional about earning your degree or certificate.
  5. What you do outside of class is just as important, if not more so, than what you do inside of the classroom. Be intentional about using your time wisely to prepare for class and practice good study habits.
  6. Academic knowledge is essential for success, but practical intelligence, also known as street smarts, is equally vital. Be intentional in learning and applying those “life laws” as you cross the bridge to the professional world.

Like me, Mr. Murphy likes the symbolism of the bridge, and he plans to incorporate it into every session this year. A bridge symbolizes a transition from one place to another. I chose the Cooper River Bridge for the cover photograph because of my numerous experiences in crossing it on foot. Always a challenge, crossing this bridge requires preparation, motivation, and determination, many of the same characteristics needed to succeed in college.

Crossing The Bridge eBook Cover2

Regardless of discomfort or discouragement, the traveler, like the student,  has to keep on moving towards the other side. That’s where the goodies are, the rewards that being intentional and staying the course can provide.

I hope the men in the workshop will realize that it’s their choice. As Jack Canfield once said, “We blame our parents, our bosses, our friends, the media, our coworkers, our clients, our spouse, the weather, the economy, our astrological chart, our lack of money—anyone and anything we can pin the blame on. We never want to look at where the real problem is–ourselves.”

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A Little Booklet??

You’ve heard of Elizabeth Gilbert, right? The woman who wrote Eat, Pray, Love? She wrote other books too, including The Signature of All Things. (I just downloaded it to my iPad.) Yesterday I listened to a podcast featuring an interview with Gilbert, and she said that although The Signature didn’t do as well as Eat, Pray, Love, she was okay with that.

She then went on to tell of a conversation that took placed years ago when she was a 22-year-old diner waitress (her words). She and a professor from the University of Pennsylvania were discussing James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity. An aspiring writer, Gilbert admitted that the book was phenomenally successful, and then wondered aloud why Jones had never written another masterpiece.

In talking with the erudite professor, Gilbert scoffed at Jones’ “one hit wonder.” That’s the last time she ever made that mistake. Immediately the professor “schooled” her when he began to ask a series of questions. What was her objection to Jones’ work? Does a person have to keep producing best sellers to be considered gifted? Shouldn’t you applaud people who keep producing their work? Encourage those who put their work out there?

Gilbert felt little as she considered the arrogance of a 22-year-old unpublished waitress who had dissed James Jones. After all, what had she done (in the writing arena)? Who was she to say such an audacious thing? One hit wonder indeed.

Decades later, Gilbert remembers that diner discussion with the prof and asks, “Even if it’s not a masterpiece, so what? Shouldn’t people keep on going? Keep on writing?” (Paraphrase)

I have no aspirations of becoming rich and famous through my writing, and neither does anyone else in my writing group. Most have been published, however, and a couple have won prestigious awards for their work. At the same time, we all have stories to tell: tales of woe, wonder, happiness, relatedness, horror, disappointment, humor, hope, adventure, and astonishment. You name it; we’ve got it.

We’re putting together an anthology of some of our stories, especially those of the nostalgic type, and we hope to have it available by the end of October. Today as I was describing our group project to a would-be writer, he asked, “So y’all are going to put together a little booklet or something?” A little booklet????

“Yeah, or something,” I replied serenely, remembering Gilbert’s conversation with the professor. Shouldn’t you encourage people who put their work out there? Do you have stories to share? Why aren’t you writing them?

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Bears, Raccoons, and Elephants

One by-product of semi-retirement is I don’t have as much structure to my days. I don’t have to get up at 5:25 to make sure I get on the road to Sumter to teach a class. Or as in my earlier years, to feed children, make sure their books and essentials were together and their socks matched before heading out to take them to school and preschool.  After dinner (we called it supper then) each evening, there were dishes to wash, homework to supervise, baths to give, and studying to do.

In case anyone thinks I’m complaining about the crazy busyness of those years, I’m not. I’m merely emphasizing the structure and tight schedule.

I still study. Or rather, I read. I read whatever I want to. It doesn’t have to be strictly related to my work (teaching psychology). I refreshed my knowledge about narcissistic personality disorder the other day, but that’s because I wanted to and not because I had too. And since I ‘m teaching Human Growth and Development this semester, I’ve been reading updates, and wow, there’s new information on a daily basis, especially in genetics.

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Now that I have more time to read for pleasure and information, I learn new and fascinating things every day. I just finished Jessamyn West’s The Friendly Persuasion and learned about life in a Quaker community of Indiana around the time of the Civil War. It was a simpler time when we didn’t know so much about the crazies of the world …or the evil either.

I picked up a book entitled Rules of Thumb by and learned these interesting tidbits:

  • If you like your Granny Smith apples extra tart, choose the ones with speckles and red patches. James Turner
  •  Effortless prose generally takes three or four drafts. Dr. Paul Trotman
  •  Bears can outrun, outclimb, and outswim a human. Your only chance is to run downhill; the bear’s center of gravity makes it difficult for it to follow.
  •  Raccoons feed heavily 48 hours before the approach of a large winter storm.
  •  The African elephant has ears shaped like Africa. The Indian elephant has ears shaped like India.

I learned that John wrote Revelation while in exile on the Isle of Patmos about 96 A.D. He wrote 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John sometime between 100 to 110 A.D. while still on the Isle of Patmos. Even though Revelation was written first, it was placed after the Johns. I bring this up because since Revelation comes last in the Bible, many people assume that it was written last. These same people delight in letting LDS people know that Revelation states that no one should add to its words.

I skimmed a travel book that I wish I’d read before going to New England last fall and learned that Maine has more obese people than any other NE state. It has more cat owners than any state in the nation!

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From Ellis Nelson’s Into The Land of Snows, I learned at least a dozen new words, my favorite being Bardo, a  temporary state of the soul between death and rebirth. It could last up to 49 days, and the eventual reincarnation is governed by the person’s karma in his or her the past life.

I know many of the above findings might seem weird to some people, but it’s a great big world out there, and if we only know and learn about the little spheres we’ve been plopped into, we can become pretty narrow-minded.

But that’s not my main point. What I’m getting at is that I learned all of the above because of  my ability to read. It’s a privilege that many (especially females) in the world don’t have.

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What’s something you’ve learned from reading just this last week…or month? 

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