Afraid of the Dark?

One Sunday night twenty years ago, my mother and I were talking on the phone when she said, “Your father wants to talk to you. Says it’s important.”

“Sure,” I said, wondering what to expect. While many of my friends had chatty, talkative, and interactive dads, I did not. Mine was quiet, detached, and observant—very observant. He had his finger on the pulse, so to speak, of every member of the family and knew their idiosyncrasies, needs, fears, proclivities, and favorite foods. BUT, he wasn’t much of a talker.

During our Sunday night chats, always at 6:00 sharp, my mother would say, “Your father this or your father that,” when filling me in on the details of their lives, and after our conversation ended, she would convey the news from my corner of the world to him. To have him ask to speak to me that evening was rare. Nonetheless, in a couple of seconds I heard his voice saying, “Hello Honey.” My sister Ann and I were always Honey, and both of my brothers were Son.

We didn’t talk long, but the gist of the conversation was that he was concerned that I didn’t know enough about that complicated thing called life. And the closer he approached three score and ten, he thought it was well-nigh time to correct matters. Although I don’t recall him listing specific worries, I think they could all probably fit under:

  • Do you know where to go to find peace?
  • Do you know how to navigate the waters of contention, betrayal, and disillusionment?
  • Are you brave enough for whatever’s ahead for you?

It was a strange but amazing conversation, strange because we’d never talked so directly and openly about these topics and amazing because although I was caught off guard, I felt perfectly at ease. I loved responding with these words (paraphrase): “You don’t have to worry about me, Daddy. You and Mama have given all of us enough love and confidence and know-how to tackle whatever’s ahead. And no, I don’t know the answers to everything (who does, right?), but I’ve always known the importance of asking, looking, pondering, and praying.”

I don’t know whether my mini-speech satisfied him, but he handed the phone back to Mama, hopefully secure that I’d be just fine. And most of the time I am. Whenever I have doubts, experience the doldrums, or feel darkness, I know how to find the light.

A few weeks ago, I read and reviewed Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet. While there are so many positive things I could say about it, this evening I’m sharing something she wrote about children being afraid of the dark. If only it were simple enough to get them a nightlight! But it isn’t. She even admitted that she was afraid of the dark, especially when one thinks about the things darkness connotes, things like evil, cruelty, and uncertainty. She’s afraid of “the shadows of another kind of dark, the darkness of nothingness, of hate, of evil.” Are you?

How can we help children get over their fear of darkness? L’Engle asks. How can we help adults? Books can serve as candles; so can music and friendship. And although she doesn’t specially spell it out for her readers, so can love. Whether spoken in those three little words or expressed by acts of kindness, queries about health and well-being, or questions from a usually reticent father, love brings light.

How do you deal with darkness, your own or that of others? A friend who feels special compassion for children says, “You know, all little children want someone to hold their hand.” I agree. And I think adults want the same thing.

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A Circle of Quiet

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Yesterday I finally got around to posting a review of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet on Amazon. A lovely book of reflections on the author’s life experiences, opinions, and beliefs, it had me at this sentence found near the beginning of the book: “Some of our children talk about going back to the garden; we can’t do that; but we can travel in the direction which will lead us to that place where we may find out who we really are.”

Yes.

And then there’s this: “Sometimes the obvious is so obscured by brilliant analysis that it gets lost.” Haven’t we all felt that after reading or listening to a particularly esoteric passage or lecture? Not as eloquent as L’Engle, my thoughts at such times are more in line with the KISS formula, Keep It Simple Sweetheart. Her writing is clear, yet profound, and I found myself thinking Yes dozens and dozens of times throughout the book.

Below is yesterday’s review.

A writer friend gave me this book with the words, “I love her voice, her story, and the way she thinks things out.” I can truthfully and enthusiastically add, “Me too!” While the author describes life in a small town and shares everyday snippets of family life, L’Engle does much, much more. Her reflections on family, child rearing, aging, marriage, religion, language, writing, God, and hubris are interesting—and universal in many ways. I say “in many ways” because women in many parts of the world probably don’t have the luxury to ponder many such topics. They’re focused on survival.

L’Engle’s musings resounded with me, for I have often thought the same thoughts and wondered the same things: What is charity? Why are children afraid of the dark? Why are adults afraid of the same thing? Is the pursuit of happiness the same thing as the pursuit of pleasure? What is the responsibility of the writer? How can one balance the precarious triangle of wife-mother-writer? What can we give a child that will stay with him (or her) when there is nothing left?

In short, this is a book that I won’t be lending to anyone or donating to a thrift shop. Because of the author’s conversational style, honesty, and wisdom, it’s one that I plan to dip into often. My copy of A Circle of Quiet is filled with margin notes and underlined passages that spoke to me. “Sometimes the adversary is the darkness that roams the earth” is one. Another is “Detachment and involvement: the artist must have both.” There are dozens of extraordinary passages. Why not read the book and find some gems for yourself?

Because of my roles in life, both past and present, many of the author’s musings affected my thinking and forced me to ponder answers to her questions. In the next couple of posts, I hope to pursue some of them, beginning with what we can give children (and others) that will stay with them when there’s nothing left.

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Dick, Jane, and Hiawatha

Last night I met someone who told me about a family history book given to her by a relative. “It was more like genealogy,” she said, “and I wish there had been some stories in it.”

“I know what you mean. Stories can make ancestors come alive for us—show us that they too had trials and challenges.”

“All I have are birth and death dates to go with names. I want to know what happened in-between,” she said.

I pondered her words and thought of the stories my siblings and I added to our family history.  Below are a few paragraphs that illustrate changes in race and gender.

“Although Brown vs. Board of Education declared separate public schools for black and white children in 1954 to be unconstitutional, life didn’t change in our separate and unequal little Southern town for another decade. My siblings and I went to school at Camden Elementary with all the other white kids in town and walked to and from school each day.

“Although the African American population in Camden was fairly large, I rarely saw a black person—not in school or church or at the movies. Not in stores or restaurants. Nowhere. Even when DuPont came to the area and changed our little community, there was a limit to what they could do, and there were still restrictions on letting the races work in the same room—at least at first.

“Each year, classes presented “chapel programs,” and other classes filed into the auditorium to watch. My most memorable was about Hiawatha, perhaps because Mama made my dress and took several pictures. She even made the headband and found a feather for it and some moccasins for my feet. In retrospect, I wonder how much she knew about the depopulation and displacement of Native Americans at that time. By midlife, she was heartbroken after learning more of their horrific mistreatment in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a book that profoundly influenced her thinking.

“Worth mentioning is how we learned to read—using Dick and Jane primers. Dick and Jane and their sister Sally belonged to a perfect nuclear family, complete with a cat and dog, Puff and Spot. Sally even had curly blondish hair like Ann. The father went to work each day, and the mother stayed home baking cookies and providing a clean, warm environment for her family.

“In the books, Dick was told such things as “Run, Dick, run,” and Jane was instructed to, “Look, Jane, look.” I loved those little books. Although I didn’t see it at the time, Dick and Jane exemplified what social scientists would describe as giving boys wings and girls roots. Dick and Jane were a lot like us. Jane and Sally even wore dresses to play in just like my sister and I did. On freezing days, we were allowed to wear pants beneath our dresses.

“It wasn’t until I was in graduate school and raising children of my own when I learned that Dick and Jane primers were being taken out of the schools since they didn’t accurately depict our changing social mores. In fact, they had been declared as both sexist and racist. At first, I thought this was erroneous, but then I began reading some of my daughters’ books, and sure enough, the times they were a’ changing.

“One morning on the way to school,  Carrie was reading aloud and stumbled over the pronunciation of a Spanish surname—Dr. Gonzalez. And get this—the doctor was a woman! Before I knew it, Judy Blume was on the scene tackling such issues as divorce, bullying, and racism in her children’s books.

“I may be overstating this, but I feel pretty safe in saying that through the early 60’s, America and its institutions such as education kept to safe subjects. I didn’t know any friends whose parents were divorced, and few mothers worked outside of the home. Those who did were primarily in five fields: teaching, nursing, childcare, secretarial, and waitressing. Some worked in mills and family businesses.”

I don’t know whether my children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews find the stories and times of their forebears as fascinating as I do, but I think including them in Our Lighted Seasons makes the history a lot less dry.

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Love/Hate Relationship

Powerful. Compelling. Unsettling. Instructional. These and other descriptors depict my thoughts and feelings on pretty much every page of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Although I’d heard of Stowe’s well-known work for most of my life, I didn’t read it until this past spring. Another confession: not only did I not read this work of historical fiction until recently, it took six or seven weeks to finish it. It was simply too painful to digest more than twenty or twenty-five pages per night.

I wanted to read the novel mainly because of curiosity. What was all the fuss about? What made it a classic book? Was Uncle Tom really like the character he’s usually portrayed to be…an overly respectful and servile slave? Was the book accurate? Just how true to life could a book of about slavery written by a white woman of relative privilege be? I’d heard that Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote much of the book in the midst of raising seven children. Who could do that today??? And rumor has it that she did most of the writing while sitting at her kitchen table. No Starbucks, writing retreats, or precious solitude for this incredible writer.

The action of the book traces the passage of Tom through the hands of three owners—Shelby, St. Clare, and Legree. Shelby and his wife cared about their slaves and yet seem to perceive of them as children who needed guidance. He felt no compunction when the need arose to sell Tom, thus separating him from Chloe and his children. St. Clare was a kind, affable Southern gentleman who died before finalizing an agreement to free Tom. But the third owner, Simon Legree, was a harsh, hateful, vile man who ultimately caused Tom’s death.

Although Tom’s life, including his whereabouts, acquaintances, activities, and influence, is central to the narrative, there are subplots as well. I got confused a few times and had to backtrack to remember who certain characters were, like Eliza and Topsy and George. Stowe even managed to include the helpful involvement of a Quaker community. I was amazed at how she wove the stories and plots into one continuous chronicle. How did she know so much about the human heart and psyche?

I had a love/hate relationship with this book. I loved its instructional nature, Stowe’s descriptions of settings and people, and the discourse between characters that raised ethnical issues. Without spelling out how self-centered and vapid Marie, St. Clare’s wife, was, the reader could easily discern her shallowness from Marie’s speech and her interactions with the slaves. How, I wondered, could such a person give birth to the child Eva? From conversations between St. Clare and his relative, Miss Ophelia, the reader gets drawn into questions of morality and decency.

About those descriptions of settings, after reading the one of the road leading to Legree’s plantation, I stopped reading for the night, too wimpy to read further. Stowe prefaced the chapter with to Psalm 74:20, “The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.” Word for word, here’s Stowe’s description:

“It was a wild, forsaken road, now winding through dreary pine barrens, where the wind whispered mournfully, and now over log causeways, through long cypress swamps, the doleful trees rising out of the slimy, spongy ground, hung with long wreaths of funeral black moss, while ever and anon the loathsome form of the mocassin snake might be seen sliding among broken stumps and shattered branches that lay here and there, rotting in the water.”

Mercy.

I will never forget Tom and the race, time, and culture he represents. Though Tom died, others, including Cassy and the children with whom she was reunited, lived. We still have Simon Legrees among us in 2018. Thankfully, we also have loving souls like Eva, thoughtful ones like St. Clare, and helpful ones like the Quakers who aided in the escape of slaves.

 

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Ivory Soap and Corn Flakes

 

Being part of a writing group has helped me in ways too numerous to recount. My membership has also made me a little more hesitant to write, or rather to trust myself as a writer. For example, I’ve been told in the nicest and most diplomatic ways possible that I tend to overuse passive voice. All I can say is, “I’m working on it.”

But I’m not going to let my weaknesses stop me from sharing something I learned at one of our meetings, something reinforced while writing Our Lighted Seasons, a family history focused on my parents. After  attending a conference in Florida, one of our members graciously shared some information about the importance of sociology in a story.  “Make sure that your reader understands how the location of the story and the past of the characters affect who they are and why they are making the decisions they make,” Brenda stressed.

Brenda described how a conference presenter drew three concentric circles and pointed out their roles in a story. The middle circle is the main character, the second circle her past that has relevance to the story. The outer rim is the sociology surrounding the main character’s life and is as strong as any other character in the story. Place, time, race, gender, language, culture, religion, and a host of other factors determine who we are and how we live our lives. How had I forgotten that?

There are so many different ways to live and work and dress and eat. You don’t  have to go out of the country to see this. Really, you don’t even have to get out of your home state, yet there is something quite broadening about traveling to another one. A quick example is the moose burger I sampled in Alaska. Another is the low country boil my son-in-law devoured when he moved to the South. A native Californian, he had lived in Utah and Venezuela and sampled a good many dishes but nothing quite as tasty as the combination of corn, potatoes, shrimp, and sausage.

The culture of a place is part of the story. So are its history and landscape. The morning after the writing group met, I listened to a podcast in which people were asked a question like, “Which of these two men is more likely to be successful in attracting and meeting women, the one carrying a gym bag or the one carrying a music case?”

That’s easy, I thought. Gym bag. The person being quizzed originally thought the same thing. “But wait,” she said. “Is this person in Paris or New York? That’s important to know.” The interviewer went on to explain that Americans in some parts of the nation are into fitness, health, and working out. Hence, they’d be more likely to respond positively to a man with a gym bag. In Paris, however, with an emphasis on music and the arts, an instrument case would be an ideal prop.

 

History is as important as place, culture, and tradition, a fact I became increasingly aware of while writing Our Lighted Seasons. Back in the day, there were fewer choices of everything including soap, cereal, footwear, and toothpaste. Our family used Ivory. Said to be over 99 percent pure (of what I don’t know), it floated. We ate Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, and Cheerios; wore Keds and Mary Janes (the girls); and brushed our pearly whites with Colgate, Crest, or Pepsodent. Now the choices in all of those areas can be bewildering.

I’m wondering what my grandmothers would think if they could see my three pairs of walking/jogging shoes or the staggering selection of soap in Walmart. My grandchildren use “theme toothpaste,” and I vacillate between mint flavored and cinnamon. Hmmm. Wonder if my grandchildren will one day see my culture as “quaint,” limited, or boring.

How is sociology part of your story? 

 

 

 

 

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Sock Suitcase

I thought I was Done with a capital D.

The family history was a mammoth task, a time drain, a major stressor, a sleep thief. But then one day after correcting one pesky out-of-place apostrophe, I thought thought Yes and hallelujah. Confident that the book was complete, I sent for proof copies…more than once. After more revisions, edits, and additions, I was fairly happy with the results. Fairly happy = fine in my world, or at least as good as it could be at the current time.

But then a few weeks after family members had the final copy in their hands, my sister sent me a few old photographs and wondered if I’d ever seen them. All the people and scenes were recognizable except one. One black and white image showed five adults lined up, arms around each other smiling at the photographer. Not cheesy smiles but contented, happy-to-be-sharing-this-moment ones.

My eyes were drawn to the face of the second man on the left, my mother’s father, Granddaddy Clyburn. He’s standing next to his father who outlived him by about forty years. I don’t know the identity of the two people on each end. Siblings perhaps? My sister also sent a photograph of my maternal grandmother as a young woman. I studied her profile and wished I had known her then.

I started thinking about grandmothers more deeply. Jane, standing next to Great Grandaddy, died in 1944, and he married her sister Daisy. I never knew Jane (also called Janie), but in her photographs, she always wore the same sweet smile. Her daughter-in-law, Mary Jon Hegler Clyburn, passed away in her mid-80’s and had lived with Alzheimer’s for years. My paternal grandmother’s primary issue was arthritis, but she  too had a form of dementia in her later years.

I glance down at one of my fingers, kind of bumpy and weird and crooked from arthritis, and think about my grandmother’s legs, increasingly bowed from the disease. I had always thought of her as being a relatively short person, but now I realize that she had likely been taller when her legs were straight. Not one to brood over what couldn’t be helped, she would sometimes good-naturedly say she’d had a visit from “Arthur” when the discomfort was more evident.

Is my forgetfulness a gift from my grandmothers, or is it just a manifestation (pretty word to dress up the condition) of getting older. I’m not too concerned about it–yet. I’ve always been a little ditzy and forgetful. When younger, I blamed it on having a lot on my mind–things like raising children, having a career, trying to be a dutiful wife and mother. I could add daughter, sister, friend, neighbor, and other assorted roles to the list, all of which included responsibilities and to-do lists.

Quick example. When the children were small, I utterly failed in the matching socks department and finally came up with what I perceived to be the perfect solution: a sock suitcase. It was a large forest green suitcase that was stowed n the walk-in closet. When any of us, including the adults, needed socks, we’d unzip the suitcase and strike gold–usually. No one thought it unusual that Mom couldn’t keep up with all the colors, sizes, and type of socks. Nowadays, however, they might whisper words like “long it” or “can’t remember anything” behind my back. Back then, it was just one of those family things.

I don’t know much about my namesake, Jane, but as with my other grandmothers, clues to descendants’ temperament, proclivities, mental and physical health, and longevity lie in the DNA connection. Lifestyle, culture, and personal choice are important too, and I wonder if reading, working crossword puzzles, and traveling will stave off some of the brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s. Am I destined to become increasing forgetful and confused, helpless to combat the development of plague and tangles?

What mysteries lie behind the faces of your ancestors? What clues to your life and those of your children can you discover from a study of your genealogy? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Getting the Tools

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“What have you been writing lately?” a friend asked.

Embarrassed to say, “Nothing much,” I replied, “This and that.”

Before she had a chance to inquire further, I shared that I’d been reading a lot. “Good readers make good writers, you know. Just ask Stephen King.”

I love the way King lays it on the line for those who say they want to write but that really, they just don’t have time to read. In his words, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

Frankly, after finishing the first edition of the family history, Our Lighted Seasons, I needed a break, a little respite from the daily revising, rereading, editing, and formatting. I learned a lot from that experience, the most important being that I don’t have “the right stuff” to be a professional writer.  I don’t have the discipline or desire to write every day. Sour grapes? No, the absolute truth.

So….I’ve been reading a variety of essays, stories, and books and have learned much that I didn’t  know this time last month.

The people in my writing group continue to provide rich material for me to read and ponder. I’m amazed at how their minds can create so many different stories, all with well-developed characters, realistic scenes, interesting plots, and believable dialogue. I read about a home inhabited by a ghost, strangers that turn up on a homeowner’s front porch after an ice storm and ensuing power outage, and travelers who inhabit the dreams of a runner in mysterious and perhaps even mystical ways.

And then there are the articles, essays, and stories, many from textbooks, old and new, including A Writer’s Reader.

  •  From Frederick Douglas, I learned what a huge mistake people make when they think singing slaves are happy ones. Quite the contrary, “Every tone was a testimony against slavery and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains.”
  • Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” left me with questions, just like the first time or two I read it. That misfit….
  • And then there’s Fitzgerald’s journal entry aboaut family quarrels: “Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go according to any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds; they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material.”
  • And this line from Annie Dillard’s “Strangers to Darkness” is Marvelous with a capital M: ““I walked home in a shivering daze, uphill and down.”

A friend gave me a book about soul friends titled Anam Cara by by John O’Donohue, and last week, I settled in a comfy chair and read/studied it. I enjoyed it all, and here are a couple of favorite sentences. “The world rests in the night. Trees, mountains, fields, and faces are released from the prison of shape and the burden of exposure. Each thing creeps back into its own nature within the shelter of the dark…. When you attend to the way the dawn comes, you learn how light can coax the dark.” Isn’t that beautiful?

After seeing Phillip Newell’s Listening for the Heartbeat of God mentioned in an article, I had to order it from Amazon right away. Thought-provoking and inspirational, Newell     suggests that we look for God within creation and recognize the world as the place of revelation. Towards the beginning, Newell mentions the lights of the skies, the sun and moon and stars, as the spiritual coming through the physical. I love that!

I read a writer friend’s new book, Mama Sadie, and highly recommend it. I happily reviewed Brenda’s five-star book on Amazon. It was uplifting, “real,” and suspenseful.
“The plot is strong, the characters are well-drawn, and the tension is high. It’s a serious story, yet Remmes manages to insert humor and pieces of everyday life that keep the book grounded. Who will win in the end? That question keeps the reader turning the pages to learn the fate of this town.”

And finally, I’ve been reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin for a month, a solid month—maybe more. It’s so hard, y’all—the subject matter and the way it breaks my heart. Why and how could people treat one another so abysmally and think it was/is A-okay?  I read about twenty pages a night and then give it a rest.

 Maybe I’ll get back to writing tomorrow. Tonight I’m reading a little something and watching a movie. What about you?

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Family Stories

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Second from the left is my Grandfather Lewis Cunningham Clyburn, and to his left  is his mother, Jane Brown Cunningham Clyburn. I love the way she’s sandwiched between him  and my great grandfather, Lewis Craig Clyburn  The other two people are probably siblings

The three of us rode to the Myrtle Beach Airport in the misty, predawn light, that special time of day when the world seems almost magical as it emerges from darkness into light. No wait, it was around four o’clock, maybe even 4:30, long before sunrise. Cars were already on Highway 501, their drivers heading to and from the beach, some likely on their way to work in tourism, health care, or law enforcement.

To them, it was just another dark morning. Not to us. The ride symbolized a transition from one stage of life to another, a time of growth and change. As I recall, conversation was muted and infrequent. We didn’t even listen to the radio, just quietly absorbed the moments.

By the time Paul checked his bags for Mexico, others had arrived to bid him farewell, including his dad and several friends. There was another missionary leaving that day, both dressed in suits and looking official. The excitement of the young men was quite a contrast to what their parents were feeling. I was numb. Would it really be two years before I saw my son’s face again?

 Pulling him aside for one last “momism,” I told him that he was the embodiment of generations past, that they all went with him on this trip and really everywhere he went. “They reside in you,” I said. “Remember who you are.”

“Same with you, Mom.”

Momentarily speechless, I looked up at him and knew he was going to be just fine. At nineteen, he already understood more than his mother. Minnie lived in me—and Mary Jon, Annie Jane, Seth, and others too numerous to mention.

Last month, I reminded Paul of that moment and learned that he had no recollection of it at all. At all! Something that had served as one of the many springboards for Our Lighted Seasons: John and Margie, a family history, was totally forgotten by him. For me, that airport conversation had unleashed a fierce desire to learn more about generations back who shared my DNA.

But more than names, I wanted stories. Most of my ancestors are living on the other side of the veil, beyond worldly concerns and questions from an inquisitive great granddaughter, niece, or some other nosy parker. So I did the next best thing. I asked aunts, cousins, friends, and basically anyone else who might have a memory to share. My inquiries opened a treasure chest.

A couple of quick examples:

  • One of my aunts revealed that her father, my Grandfather Clyburn, had a side barbeque business and ice house. “There was a pit where his lifetime handyman would barbeque for two days or so and people would come from all around to buy it. Daddy made his own sausage and lunch meats, and he had a Tampa Nugget cigar box where he kept loose cigarettes, two for a nickel—Camels, Phillip Morris, Lucky Strikes.” It’s the detail I love. I’d forgotten all about those cigarette brands.
  • A cousin told me that his grandmother and my great grandmother (one of the four) was handy with a pistol and was known to have stood on the front porch of her home in Lancaster and shoot chickens for dinner.

Above are just two examples among the dozens in the book, but hearing about those people and knowing I had a savvy businessman and pistol-packing grandmother as ancestors helped make the whole “ancestry thing” much more interesting. They live in me—and in Paul and his sisters and cousins.

What about you? What are some of the stories of your ancestors, the ones who live in you?

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Come Sunday

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I’m a fortunate gal in so many ways, among them having friends who help me broaden my horizons and think in different ways. And lucky me, I have those who accept my religious beliefs without censure or ridicule. I appreciate that.

Last week after our writing group adjourned, four of us reconvened at a local eatery for omelets, sandwiches, and salads. If that sounds like quite a assortment of choices, it is. And it’s all good. We’d had a productive meeting, and perhaps it was the combination of a morning well-spent and breaking bread with convivial spirits that allowed us to have a calm, respectful conversation about religion.

It didn’t start that way. Someone said, “I heard you Mormons believe you can pray people into heaven. Is that true?”

Easy, Jayne,I told myself. This is not a combative person. She sincerely wants to know if what she’s heard is true.

 “No,” I said. “I can see why some people might get that idea, but no. There’s a lot more to it than that.”

She replied that she had often wondered about what happened to people in Rwanda or the Congo or other places on Earth who had never heard about Christ and His atoning sacrifice. Someone else said the Bible was clear on that matter. No one makes it into heaven without accepting Christ. The idea of purgatory was bandied about, too. Still another friend said none of those things bothered her since she didn’t believe in an afterlife. We parted company, our knowledge broadened but our faith unchanged.

The next day someone sent me news of a movie she thought I’d enjoy, Come Sunday, and added that it jived with our conversation about religion last week. I watched it Sunday night. Oh my…….a man willing to stand up for his convictions despite rejection, ostracism, and loss of fortune and “friends.”

The movie was about Dr. Carlton Pearson, a Pentecostal bishop in Tulsa with a huge following who experienced a deep and life-changing crisis of faith. The movie is just that—a movie—and can’t cover every dark hour of Dr. Pearson’s struggle and eventual break with his church, and of course neither can I.

In the movie and in an NPR interview titled “Heretic,” he relates the story of watching the news of the Rwanda genocide late one night and seeing the starving babies with distended bellies. His own tiny daughter was up with up with him, and he looked into her healthy, beautiful little face and asked WHY??? Why was his child going to heaven and these starving babies going to hell? No matter how he examined the question, he couldn’t reconcile the idea of a loving God sending innocents to hell.

Dr. Pearson did what most Christians do when perplexed. He prayed. And the next Sunday he shared the good news about hell and salvation with his congregation. That didn’t go over well, and his professional life went into downward spiral. Abandoned by his “friends” and flock, Carlton stood by his belief of inclusion and continues to preach it today.

God had talked to him, had given him an answer to his prayers. Who was he to deny God?

My friends and family don’t always agree on what we consider a good movie. Some are looking for cinematography, others for “story,” and still others for excitement, drama, humor, entertainment, or truth. There were a lot of big names in the film: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Martin Sheen, Danny Glover, Condola Rashad, Jason Segel, and LaKeith Stanfield. It was a good flick.

The movie moved me. I hope someone out there in Blogland will give it a chance. It’s not every day we see someone so committed to the truth that he’s willing to risk it all, “it” being money, fame, prestige, and international recognition. And friends. Let’s don’t forget his Christian friends who dropped him when he no longer believed as they did.

Posted in Movies, religion, Religious Beliefs, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are Ghosts Real?

There were only six of us sitting around the table at Books on Broad, a local bookstore, this morning. Four people had submitted work to be critiqued, and I erroneously assumed we would wrap up in two hours. Wrong. The official meeting lasted until noon, and then some of us adjourned to a local eatery for omelets and conversation. Death and religion were high on the list today. But I digress.

We talked business and then got down to the real business at hand–the work of critiquing and encouraging. I reminded everyone of the South Carolina Writers’ Association website and encouraged all to read “The Quill.” This month’s issue includes links to submission opportunities, information about the annual conference in October, and The Petigru Review. There was some discussion on where, when, and who—who  is going from our chapter, who is speaking at the conference, and who is judging the entries for The Petigru Review. Dubbed Petigru by many familiar with it, TPR is the association’s literary journal.

Business behind us for the time being, we critiqued the submissions in the order in which they were sent. Every critique group works a little differently, but we have until midnight on Monday to submit work for a Thursday morning meeting. Members print, read, and make comments on all submissions and come prepared to give constructive advice to fellow writers. Honestly, until I joined this group, I didn’t fully grasp the terms character development or show, don’t tell. Primarily a nonfiction writer, I still struggle with many aspects of writing fiction.

I learn something at every critique meeting, and today was no exception. I learned a newly coined word, thanaboite, by a logophile in the group. I was also reminded of how people are free to use regular words (whatever that means) in new ways. If a writer wants to describe an alarm as tart-sounding, that’s fine by me. A couple of us semi-argued against it, but the writer is going to leave it as it.  Familiar with Mark Twain’s, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning  bug and  lightening,” we all strive to find exactly the right word. Ecru or beige? Tart or sharp?

We want to get our facts accurate, too. This week we saw a revision for a piece about a ghost inhabiting the second floor of an old home. When first presented with this story a few weeks ago, some members got involved in dialogue that, in retrospect, is quite amusing.

“Do ghosts talk? Would the old woman really say something?”

“I don’t’ know about talking. They don’t eat…I know that”

“This is crazy, y’all. Everyone knows ghosts aren’t real.”

“Oh really? Well, don’t tell my aunt that because she’s heard one talking, throwing things, and causing all kinds of havoc!”

As a nonfiction writer, I’m amazed by what more creative writers can do. A few weeks ago, a story revealed a painter who discovered a ghost upstairs in an old family home. This week we learned that murder and mayhem likely occurred there. We also know where the home is, what it looks like, and some detail about the protagonist (age, career, and financial status). In another story, the writer fleshed out a tale of marital discord and in another, we learned of a a place and time unknown and unimaginable to me, a “just the facts, please” person.

As is usually the case, today I left the meeting amazed at the variety of stories, some that will stay stories, although more developed, and some that will become part of novels. Three stories left me feeling uptight.  I’m fearful for Zippy, Hope, and Merillee and will have to ponder their decisions and fates until next month. In the meantime, I’m reminding myself that these are not real people, but fictitious creations of my writer friends’ minds.

So tell me…are ghosts real? What kinds of questions has your writing group posed?

 

 

 

 

Posted in Camden Writers, critique groups, nonfiction, Uncategorized, writing, writing conferences, writing fiction, writing groups | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment