The Polka Dot Pumpkin

Yesterday was a fine day, an excellent day. We set up our table at the Habitat for Humanity Fall Festival and Craft Show and began hauling books and decorative items from the car. As far as I could tell, I (representing Camden Writers) was the only vendor without a tent. Who knew? Not I. No worries, though. My first customers said they had two tents and indicated I could use one next time.

Next time? Will there be a next time?

In some ways it would have been easier to leave the group’s books at our various homes, packed up in boxes, perhaps stored under a bed. But we had worked long and hard crafting (I had to get crafting in the blog somewhere after being asked what a book had to do with a craft) our pieces, and a few of us decided it was time to be bolder about sharing our stories. As luck would have it, I was the only person available to attend the event.

I was nervous, but things went well. Here’s why: I listened to story after story, a couple that verified the saying, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” I asked questions and learned that there are many people out there who are slogging away on family memoirs and children’s books. I say “slogging” because I think that’s how many writers feel.

One of my props was an orange bowl of chocolate candy, and towards the middle of the day, two boys who appeared to be around ten or eleven appeared and asked about the books. I told them I wasn’t sure they were the kinds of books they’d be interested in, and when one of them asked what they were about, I said, “Stories, just stories people wanted to share.”

“I can tell you a story,” he said, eagerly tearing the wrapper from a Twix bar.

Delighted, I encouraged him. “Wait, let me get my pen and notebook before you start talking.” As he talked, his friend seemed spellbound as he listened to every word. The first draft of Matthias’ story is below. Maybe someday I’ll see him again and help with a second draft and maybe a third and fourth until he gets it just right. In the meantime, here’s what I hurriedly scribbled as Matthias talked.

“Once upon a time there was a tiny pumpkin, tinier than all the tiny pumpkins in the world. All of the pumpkins made fun of him. They laughed. They dumped him in water. He was different from all the other pumpkins. He was fragile. He was a white pumpkin that had orange spots.

“One day Halloween appeared. Halloween asked him if he could drive his deer sleigh. The pumpkin told Halloween, “You don’t want me. I’m just a screw-up.” Halloween looked at him and said, ‘No matter how big or small, you can always help.’”

“So the tiny pumpkin climbed onto the sleigh and gave the kids baskets, treats, and costumes. He gave them 3 Musketeers, Hershey bars, and all the other kinds of chocolate candy. All of the other pumpkins looked at him and knew that after that day the polka dot pumpkin would never be the same.

“The next day he went to see the other pumpkins, and they had a surprise for him. It was a birthday party. He was eleven years old. The pumpkins knew they would always take care of him and look after each other. No other pumpkin, big or small, was ever alone again.” Matthias Fox

Will there be a next time at a craft show, book festival, or community event? Definitely. Otherwise, I might miss hearing some cool stories and meeting some interesting people.

Posted in books, fall festivals, stories, story telling, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Conferences, Critiques, and Contests

My path to winning 1st place in the Carrie McCray Nonfiction Contest began the year I first attended the South Carolina Writers Association Conference at the Myrtle Beach Hilton. I was a bit overwhelmed with all the activity, the number and variety of classes available, and the presence of agents and editors. In a fever to learn all I could about the craft of writing, I scribbled copious notes in every fascinating session.

During one of the breaks, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman standing beside a long table laden with cookies and beverages. Turns out he was the chapter leader of a writing group in Camden, my hometown. I didn’t even know there was such a group, much less that it was associated with SCWA (SCWW at the time). We exchanged email addresses, and Douglas promised to send some information about the organization and the Camden chapter the following week.

By Monday afternoon, I had all the information I needed to make a decision. I joined SCWA that day and attended a chapter meeting two weeks later. Nervous, I didn’t really know what to expect. Right away, someone asked what kind of writing I did, and when I said, “Mostly nonfiction,” the five people present just gave me a look that said, “Ooooo.”

In response to a question about what I had written lately, I happily said I’d just had an article published in Guideposts about a conflict with a co-worker. The title, “Is It I, Lord?” had already received some snarky remarks on Facebook. Shouldn’t the pronoun be me and not I, inquiring minds wanted to know.

“Let’s look it up,” someone said, and a Google search was on.

What? I thought. Are these people actually doubting the editors of Guideposts? Or worse, are they doubting me? Is this what it’s like to be a member of a critique group?

 The decision to stick with this group of writers is one of the best I’ve ever made. From them, I’ve learned to go sparingly with adverbs, to show, don’t tell, and that “fudging” with creative nonfiction is okay occasionally. They’ve taught me to develop characters, describe scenes, and write dialogue.

Our group is an active one. One day, we realized that many of our pieces had a common theme, and we decided to create and publish an anthology. And then we did it again. Some of us have had pieces published in The Petigru Review, SCWA’s literary journal, and other sources, a couple of us self-published books, and one member is writing her third novel. Some have won literary awards, an accomplishment that awes me.

One night a fellow writer handed me the critique of my story and suggested that I submit it to the Carrie McCray Nonfiction Contest. Others chimed in to ditto her encouragement, and I thought Why not? There was nothing to lose and possibly something grand to gain. It was a good story, after all, and one I knew people could identify with. I made the changes recommended by trusted members of my group and pushed “Submit.”

Three months later, I received an email from the editors at Petigru that began with “Congratulations.” I gulped and looked away from the computer at the yellow lantana near the driveway, buying some time. I took a deep breath and continued reading the email informing me about the award, the upcoming conference, and the need to keep the information private for the time being.

Stunned. Thrilled. This was the story of the birth of my grandson who had been blue, unbreathing, and limp at birth. The grandson with whom I communicated spirit-to-spirit as I coaxed him into opening his eyes and staring straight into mine. This infant, Seth Michael, crossed the threshold and “pinked up” before my eyes, a miracle I had shared with the judges and editors of Petigru.

Writing Seth’s story was a labor of love, an arduous one that involved work, not only in getting the story down but also in editing and revising based on suggestions from my friends in the Camden chapter. Seeing “Come On Sweet Boy” in print in The Petigru Review was worth every painstaking, time-consuming correction.

At last year’s conference, I had the opportunity to read some of “Come On, Sweet Boy” to the attendees. It was emotional, not because of nervousness but because of the subject, that mysterious crossing over to the land of the living. I took a deep breath and read the story as a tribute to my daughter, the young woman who gave life to this sweet boy.

I’ve heard that the people with the best stories are the ones who know how to tell them. What’s your story? Are you willing to tell it? Are you willing to work on the writing of it to make it the truest story you can? Do you have some writer friends who can suggest and recommend edits?

Like me, you could write a prize-winning story with hard work and a little help from your friends.

It’s not too late to join us at the South Carolina Writers’ Association Big Dream Conference at Pawleys Island, SC October 27-29. Check out the website for details. http://www.myscwa.org

 

Posted in Camden Writers, critique groups, generative writing groups, Uncategorized, workshops, writing, writing conferences, writing contests, writing groups | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Louie and Alma

 

Books, whether fiction or nonfiction, can offer hope, provide inspiration, and even transform lives. Recently, someone told me what she did whenever she began feeling discouraged: “I think of Louie, the man in Unbroken.”

“You too?” I asked, delighted at the further confirmation of the power of reading to help and heal.

Our conversation sent me on a search to find, revise, and repost a long ago blog.

Years ago, I heard a great definition of mental health. It wasn’t scientific or packed with a lot of hifalutin words. It was more like an example, a visual of a person climbing a mountain.

Imagine yourself as that person and think of the ascent as your progression through life. You’re mentally healthy. Up, up, up, you go, and then BAM, something happens. Your heart is broken. Despair swirls all around you. You decide to sit down and have a good cry, a pity party of one.

But sooner or later, a mentally healthy person is going to get up, brush off her shoulders, and say something like, “That was awful, but I’d be crazy to let it continue to get me down. I am so moving on!”

Someone who isn’t as mentally healthy is more likely to lie down and really wallow in it. “Poor me,” she says. “No one has ever had it as bad as I do. No one has ever hurt like this.”

This long ago visual of mental health has resurfaced in my mind because of two books, Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken and Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of all Things. Unbroken, a story of survival, perseverance, strength, and resilience, tells the amazing life story of Louis Zamperini, a man who went from juvenile delinquent to Olympic track star to Japanese POW in World War II.

“Regardless of what befell Louie, he remained unbroken. The same is true for Alma Whitaker, the protagonist in The Signature of All Things. Though wealthy and intelligent, Alma was unattractive and ungainly. Her father even said so. The man of her dreams married another, and years later when she met someone else, their marriage was brief and tortuous (for Alma). After realizing some cold hard facts, Alma banished Ambrose Pike to Tahiti in anger and deep hurt.

“At one point in the novel, Alma is being held under the water, struggling for her life. Alma thought, ‘Lastly, she knew one other thing, and this was the most important realization of all: she knew that the world was plainly divided into those who fought an unrelenting battle to live, and those who surrendered and died. This was a simple fact. This fact was not merely true about the lives of human beings; it was also true of every living entity on the planet, from the largest creation down to the humblest.’

“Alma gained strength and pushed through to the surface of the water.

“I’m not as tough as Louie or Alma, but their stories have impressed and inspired me so much that I’ve been sharing their lessons with anyone who will listen. Here’s my takeaway from these two books:

  • Life is tough sometimes. People leave your life; sometimes they die. You must remain unbroken.
  • You might lose your job, the love of your life, your home. You must remain unbroken.
  • You will experience rejection, loss, loneliness, disappointment, and good old despair. You must remain unbroken.
  • Regardless of what befalls you, get up, brush yourself off, and start climbing again. Stay unbroken.

“These two people, one fictional and one real, have strengthened and inspired me. Who are some characters in movies or books who have influenced you?”

Posted in books, inspiration, Liz Gilbert, nonfiction, readng, stories, Uncategorized, writers | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Like Scarlett Said

I’ve been working on a family history off and on for the last year, more off than on. I’ll work feverishly on dates and names for a few days and then get distracted by experimenting with chalk paint or rearranging furniture. And sometimes life just calls me somewhere else, like to an unexpected event or an awesome opportunity.

But today has been like a gift. I’ve had time to read, paint, grade papers, edit parts of the history, and think. Although I’ve been trying to shut out the shootings in Las Vegas, they’re there. A friend said she thought she was having a nightmare when she woke up to the news. And then she knew the nightmare was real. There’s Puerto Rico too. And North Korea. There are crises and issues all across the globe.

I can’t think about that right now. Poverty, starvation, cruelty, madness, injustice, evil—it’s too much to think about today. Like Scarlett said, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

What does this have to do with writing a family history?

About a month ago, I felt inspired to write a few things that were happening in the world during the year my parents were born, 1929. From there, it seemed like a good idea to include some happenings during their childhood.

“What was the world like, especially the United States, the year John and Margie made their appearance? Knowing that events, people, and culture influence the belief system and psyche of individuals, I’m including a few happenings that took place during their early lives.

“When piecing together the following events, I pondered how much our parents’ lives and subsequently ours would have been different if we’d been born in another country or time. I shudder to imagine life without electricity, electronics, and indoor plumbing…or to have been born in North Korea or Iraq. To quote Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: ‘Seems like we’re just set down here and don’t nobody know why.’

“The United States population reached 120 million in 1929, the year my parents were born, she on April 5 and he on September 21. Today it’s 326,474,013. Among other notables born that year were Anne Frank, Barbara Walters, Martin Luther King, Jr., Arnold Palmer, and Dick Clark.

“Herbert Hoover was sworn in as president on March 4, and the Stock Market crashed on October 28. The Crash ushered in the Great Depression, an event so devastating that it affected nearly every country in the world. The first few years of their lives had to have been tough ones with possible long lasting effects including an inclination towards frugality.

“It wasn’t all gloom and doom. As has ever been true, some good things happened, too. In November of 1929, MoMA opened in NYC, and in 1930 frozen vegetables became the first frozen food to go on sale. Yippee! Actually the advent of convenience foods was a mixed blessing. While meal preparation was streamlined, many forgot how to shell beans or shuck corn, much less grow their produce.”

Like my parents, I too am a product of my culture, including the era in which I was born, race, ethnicity, religion, and social class. Sometimes it seems easier to see another person’s “culture” and forget that we each wear our own like a second skin. We might point to others and find their views and behavior quaint, crazy, old-fashioned, weird, childlike, and perhaps unsophisticated.

What I’m realizing more each day is that my life and yours would be much different than it is had we been born in Burundi, Syria, Puerto Rico, or in a different geographic area within America. Skin color, gender, education (often determined by gender), age (life expectancy in United States is 79.8 years 50.2 in Chad), and a host of other factors determine a person’s perspective and choices.

When I was a child, we didn’t have a television until the mid-1950’s and even then, news was limited, spotty, and “late.” Now we can learn of events happening around the world instantly. I wonder if my parents would have become more jaded or pessimistic had they been assaulted on all sides by so much information. I wonder if that’s happening to me.

I don’t have answers, just questions. Perhaps by writing the history, I can gain insight into my ancestors’ thinking and behavior–and into mine.

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Read On!

 

Yesterday some friends and I had a round table discussion about aging, stories, relationships, writing, religion, more writing, hip replacements, and finally books. “What’s everybody been reading?” someone asked, and we were off to the races. With very little commentary, I’m listing the names of the books, their authors, and a few words about each.

Maybe you’ll something you’d like to read.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North
From one of the reviews, “Harry August is a kalachakra, one who must live their life over and over again.” Hmm. Sounds interesting, and I’ve already learned a new word: kalachakra.

And There Was Evening and There Was Morning, Mike Smith
From a reviewer: “Mike Smith is a gifted poet, and his gift shines through in this story of love and sorrow. In these pages, we become acquainted with a life and we feel the loss of it for the writer, his family, and for ourselves.”

Life After Death, Raymond Moody
Moody is the father of the modern NDE (Near Death Experience) movement, and his pioneering work Life After Life changed the way people think about death and what lies beyond. First published in 1975, it’s now available in a special fortieth-anniversary edition.

Proof of Heaven, Eben Alexander
From Amazon: “The #1 New York Times bestselling account of a neurosurgeon’s own near-death experience.” Thousands of people have had NDEs, but scientists have argued that they are impossible. Dr. Alexander was one of those scientists…until it happened to him. On a personal note, I personally know individuals who’ve found solace by reading this book.

Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality, Phillip Newell
From a reviewer: “This book broadened by outlook on Christianity. It also fed my soul.”

The Princess and the Goblin, George McDonald
The friend who recommended this children’s book mentioned a similarity to the works of C.S. Lewis, and I quickly added it to my Kindle.

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, Nina Riggs
I had heard of this book earlier and knew it to be written by a young woman who’s dying. I’m still not ready to read it, but the reviews are beautiful. “I think every writer is just trying to find the words to say essentially: This is what life feels like.”

One Good Mama Bone, Bren McClain
McClain visited our area in the Midlands of SC last week, and I was sorry to have missed a signing. Fortunately, her book is available on Amazon. “This is a novel that just might break your heart, and it might well heal it too, but with both acts Bren McClain will remind you of why each of us is entrusted with a heart in the first place.” Mary Alice Monroe, from the foreword

Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time, Andrew Forsthoefel
From the author: “Life is fast, and I’ve found it’s easy to confuse the miraculous for the mundane, so I’m slowing down, way down, in order to give my full presence to the extraordinary that infuses each moment and resides in every one of us.”

The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt
From Amazon: “Every active citizen in the US should read this book. You will better understand what’s happening with your friends and coworkers on the other side of the political divide, and, just as importantly, what’s going on with you.”

The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg
From Amazon: “World-renowned Jesus scholar Marcus J. Borg shows how we can live passionately as Christians in today’s world by practicing the vital elements of Christian faith” Me? I enjoyed this book, especially his comments on thin places.

Hallelujah Anyway, Anne Lamott
The Chicago Tribune calls this “A clarion call to the better angels of our nature.” I checked this out of our local library a few weeks ago and soon realized that this was a book I’d want to refer to again and again, so I downloaded it to my Kindle.

I hope you found something you like in the above list. Do you have any recommendations? 

 

 

 

Posted in books, memoir, near death experiences, nonfiction, reading, stories, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This isn’t going to be the best organized, well-worded, perfectly punctuated post I’ve ever written. But I’ve got to get this stuff down and out before I forget about it. Or rather, before its raw sharpness loosens its hold on my soul. Sounds serious, huh? It is.

Friday morning I was up and out on the back porch before dawn. I wanted to read a little something on my Kindle and tweak a family history on my Mac. I settled into my wicker chair and said a silent prayer of thanks for my multitudinous blessings, including our home, the morning sounds, and the fact that I didn’t have to leave for work at 6:50 like I had for decades. I sent up some thoughts of gratitude for my children and grandchildren too. Then I got a little “gimme” attitude and asked for some things.

There’s no need to share all the private thoughts and requests I shared with my Creator. You’d likely either get bored or think that’s so sappy. The gist of the request was for guidance, inspiration, and protection for all my young loves. And then, I felt impressed to ask for one more thing: strength for my grandchildren in dealing with any sorts of unkind words or deeds that might befall them. I know kids get pushed and shoved and teased.

The occurrence of some kind of bullying is inevitable in our society. But can’t a grandmother ask for help in dealing with it? When I say “our society,” I don’t mean to imply that Americans have a premium  on it. I’m pretty sure it’s worldwide. It’s just that in recent years, the ways to bully have multiplied.

Driving to Myrtle Beach a few hours later, I listened to a couple of podcasts, one of which was “Stuff you Missed In History Class.” The episode was about Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old black teen who was brutally beaten and killed for supposedly “wolf whistling” at a white woman in a grocery store. At first the woman said Emmett touched her; later she said she had lied. It’s too bad for Emmett that “later” was long after his horrific death.*

Two days after the alleged incident, Carolyn Bryant’s husband and another man kidnapped Emmett from his uncle and aunt’s home. They and others (unnamed) beat the boy unmercifully before shooting him in the head. I hope he died early in the process, long before they broke his pelvis. They then wound barbed wire around his neck and tied him to something heavy (a gin of some type) and tossed him in a river.

Emmett’s mother fought to have her son’s bloated and mutilated body brought home to Chicago for burial. His open coffin was covered with a glass shield, and many historians believe that his funeral focused attention on racism and gave the Civil Rights Movement a kick-start. Rosa Parks was reportedly thinking of him when, days after his death, she found the courage to keep her seat on the bus.

I could bring this to a close by writing about man’s inhumanity to man, racism, cruelty, injustice, and evil, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll just say that while fear is fear, my fears for my young loves are more about taunts and teasing. Juxtaposed to Emmett’s mother’s ever-present anxiety about the safety of her son, mine is more of a floating thing. My fears are paltry beside Emmett’s mother. So is my strength in dealing with tragedy.

I’m still too unsettled and distraught over this sixty-two year old incident to even articulate my main point unless the point is love. If you and I prayed for other children in addition to our own precious ones, that’d be a start. Yes, love is the word. Love and care and compassion for all the children in the world.

*The podcast above mentioned a book by Timothy Tyson, The Blood of Emmett Till. I want to read it…and probably will. But not today, not even this week. I’m still reeling from the injustice that occurred August 28, 1955.

 

 

 

Posted in books, Bullying, Civil Rights, love, podcasts, stories, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Untold Stories

It’s not an overstatement to say that I love my writing group—the members, the interaction, the energy, the critiquing—all of that and more.

When I first joined the group, we met a couple of times a month, one morning meeting and one evening one, the latter being primarily for those who worked during the day. We acted more as a critique group than a generative writing group in that we didn’t actually encourage, much less pressure, members to write, write, write.

But then something changed. About three years ago, we noticed that many of the pieces we wrote and critiqued had a similar theme: memories of yesteryear, most of which focused on family connections. The light bulb came on, and I suggested putting together an anthology. How hard could it be, right? We’d already done the writing; now we just had to put it together.

Our ignorance of the work involved was colossal.

Only now can we laugh about it. Little did we realize how grueling the editing, revising, and re-editing would be. And then there was the cover creation and the pesky but necessary pages like the copyright page, title page, foreword, and introduction (if not part of the text itself). And then there was the list of contributors that we wanted to add to the Back Matter.

Although all of us were avid readers, none of us had actually studied the parts of a book and the order they go in. I learned the difference between recto and verso pages and had the fleeting thought, Uh-oh, we’re in trouble.

 We pressed forward, and Serving Up Memory was published a little over two years ago. We felt so pleased with its reception that we created a Kindle edition. Fun times. We had a few signings and presentations, and then we were on our way to the next project, a local writing workshop that we called “First One Word, Then Another.”

Held on the downtown Camden campus of Central Carolina Technical College, the one-day workshop was (in our estimation) a huge success. We had classes led by established writers, a panel discussion, a delicious box lunch, door prizes, and a book sale.

High on the success of the workshop, we decided to put another anthology together. It’s not that we’d forgotten how much work was involved, but our thinking had shifted to, “We learned so much about what NOT to do last time that it’ll be a much more streamlined process in 2016.”

Wrong! I’ll skip the details.

What I Wish I Could Tell You was published in December, 2017 with the Waxing Crescent Press imprint. It includes some great pieces, and yet…….well, the overall theme seemed to go awry. We began chatting about what we’d do “next time,” but our hearts weren’t in it—yet.

Now we’re talking about the 2018 anthology in a tentative way, and here’s something we’ve discovered about our group. We like writing and creating and publishing, but we don’t like marketing. Or rather, we’re not that good at it. Projects are fun and motivating. Pushing the finished products are not.

Consider this blog post to be part of the marketing process for our previous books AND be on the alert for announcements to come about our next publication. All I can say for now is that we love stories, especially those from the past. “Everybody’s got a story,” Kathryn, a member of our group, often says, and we want to share some of the untold ones.

Posted in anthologies, book signings, books, Camden Writers, marketing, nonfiction, stories, Uncategorized, workshops, writing, writing groups, writing projects, writing workshops | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mighty Fine Adventure

I was in a fever yesterday. For weeks, I’d been learning about the eclipse that was to come speeding over South Carolina on the afternoon of August 17 and was all set to feel at one with the universe.

Two friends posted links to Annie Dillard’s marvelous essay about a solar eclipse she witnessed in Washington in 1979. Here’s one of the sensations I wanted to experience: “Abruptly it was dark night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. There was no sound. In the black sky was a ring of light. It was a thin ring, an old, thin silver wedding band, an old, worn ring. It was an old wedding band in the sky, or a morsel of bone. There were stars.”

I also listened (twice) to an NPR TED talk by David Baron. Found in TED TALKS DAILY, the podcast is entitled “You owe it to yourself to experience a total solar eclipse.” Baron describes himself as an umbraphile, an eclipse chaser, and after listening to the podcast, I thought If I had time and money and more years to live……At the very least, his words convinced me that I’d soon see Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus.

Yesterday I was excited, jumpy, too worked up to think straight. “How can you play golf this morning when the eclipse will be over Camden this afternoon?” I asked my husband.

“I’ll be back in plenty of time.”

“The partial starts early, you know.”

He glanced up from putting his clubs in the truck and said, “See you this afternoon.’

Clearly, he did not understand the meaning of cosmic bliss.

We decided to view the event from Old McCaskill’s Farm with friends and dozens and dozens (I’m not good with numbers—could have been hundreds) of other people, including some from out-of-state. Before we even parked the car, I felt the energizing effect of the place and time, and as we walked towards the buildings, animals, and people, my excitement grew.

Was I really going to see a solar corona, planets, and stars in the middle of the afternoon?

I slapped my glasses across my eyes and swallowed hard. A chunk of the sun was already missing. “I can’t handle this,” I said. “It’s too much.”

Accustomed to my occasional drama, he said, “Come on. Let’s find Billy and Lynn.”

After finding our friends, we spent the next hour or so walking around, talking, looking at pigs and goats, taking pictures, and drinking a lot of water. We ate Oreos too, the closest thing I could find to Moon Pies. I felt a breeze, gentle but definite. I saw a flock of birds high in the blue sky.

It was hot, so hot that when I guzzled water from my bottle, it drizzled down my chin, and I didn’t even care. We were in high spirits, gathered with others beneath a blue sky to experience something akin to Nirvana.

Throughout this time, we checked out the sun with our NASA approved glasses every minute or so. “It’s getting smaller,” was a phrase repeated all around us. “The sun’s almost gone,” came next.

And it was true. The sun was an orange sliver, and I held my breath. The cicadas went wild with their chirping, and the sky began to change. Was the darkening because of some beautiful white fluffy clouds that were now obscuring the sun, or was it because of the eclipse?

Those clouds. Surely they’d clear up in a couple of minutes. At least that’s what I overheard from all sides. And yes, I thought. Surely, they will. I’ve seen them come and go like that on the beach more times than I can remember.

I saw lights on what appeared to be an RV on the periphery of the parking lot, and when I turned back to the scene of the action, it was dusk. DH pointed out a star shining high above us towards the right. I whipped out my glasses again and turned back to the clouds overhead. I could see nothing-nada-zilch. And yet, there was a reverent hush across the field.

The sky beyond the fence was purple and crepuscular. Everything and everyone quiet, even the baby who had been so angrily intent on getting out of her stroller moments earlier. I pulled away from my group and swiftly walked to the fence to take a picture of the horizon beyond.

By the time I turned and walked the few steps back to them, the sky was regaining its vivid blueness. Clouds were still blocking the sun, and with dawning awareness, everyone realized we had missed the main event, the reason we had all gathered, the moment of complete totality, because of those clouds. Alas, we would see no solar corona this year.

Everything and everyone seemed to come alive again, to snap to full attention and awareness. I glimpsed a darling toddler with curly black hair running down the hill, her father doing his best to keep up with her. The goats were moving around, and the cicadas were quiet. So were the birds.

Reluctant to leave, we made small talk and trudged back up the hill, eventually making our way to the parking lot. Had it really been twilight twenty minutes earlier? My thinking was muddled.

I was disappointed not to have felt that promised connection to the universe. But it had been a fine adventure, a mighty fine adventure, completed by the sights of a happy tot running gleefully down a hill and a bright star high in the sky.

Posted in Annie Dillard, life, solar eclipse, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Very Good

This morning our local writers’ group met at Books on Broad, a delightful independent bookstore and coffee shop, and as always I left the meeting motivated to finish some projects I’ve been working on. Before leaving the bookstore, I wandered around looking and touching and glimpsing inside of dozens of books, an activity that further fueled my intentions to do the work. 

Writing and reading on my mind, I stopped by the county library on the way home, and I checked out three books, none of which I have time to read right now. And yet. And yet…well, you know. I had to have them. I’m looking at Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott as I write this, and I know that somehow I’ll find the time to read this in the next couple of weeks.

I just opened Hallelujah and came across this sentence on page 89: “Being alive here on earth has always been a mixed grill at best, lovely, hard, and confusing.” Yes! I think Lamott’s book has just taken precedence over working on a family history I’ve been working on. And work is the operative word…not just for the history but for writing in general. Even choosing just the right word can be challenging.

Words, at least the English ones, come from twenty-six little letters, and those words can make a tremendous difference in how people interpret our meaning. Would you prefer to be skinny, thin, or slim? If you’re a policeman, would you rather be referred to as a cop, a law officer, the fuzz, or a pig? While the dictionary definitions are similar, the connotations of these words are quite different.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a sentence from a student’s discussion board post: I want to be brave and not perfect. And it’s true. I want to be bolder, braver. My daughter Carrie and I were recently discussing this, and I said something like, “Even God who IS perfect created the earth and then pronounced it “very good,” not perfect.

But then I went on a tear about the many translations the Bible has been through, about how many people copied from a copy that had been copied from another copy—more times than we know. And then I said, “To tell you the truth, I don’t really even know who wrote Genesis for sure.”

Who, after all, was alive to tell the tale?

My son-in-law, awake from his nap, walked into the kitchen just as I was asking the question and said it was Moses. While I knew that Moses is credited with writing the next four books of the Old Testament, I didn’t know he was the author of Genesis, too. Some people say God himself “wrote” the first chapter and that Adam, Noah, Terah, and others are responsible for other chapters and specific verses.

I’m sticking with my son-in-law’s statement.

Besides, does it matter? Well…yes, it does matter. If Moses received the words from God through revelation, were they in Hebrew? What is the Hebrew word for “very good?” I know only un poco and un peu about Spanish and French and practically nothing about Hebrew. I do know, however, that even in English there are subtle differences between words.

Quick story. Years ago, I overheard a conversation in which a diehard bachelor was describing a young woman he had begun dating. After a few moments of listening to his enthusiastic description of his latest heartthrob, a mutual friend said, “It sounds like you’re dating a nice girl for a change. I’m happy to hear it.”

He replied with a wink, “Oh, she’s nice all right.”

Nice is an easy, everyday word, and yet, everyone listening to the conversation knew the speakers had differing interpretations.

This rambling post does have a point. Do the best work you can and let it go. Even God, the Creator of heaven and earth, pronounced His handiwork as very good. After checking  Genesis 1: 31 in three different bibles (NAS, NIV, and KJV), I’m trusting the translation as very good.

Posted in books, Camden Writers, courage, family histories, reading, Uncategorized, words, writing, writing critiques, writing groups | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Voodoo vs. Hoodoo

The South Carolina Writers’ Association Board met for lunch a couple of weeks ago to go over old business and to discuss current and future events. I’m not the secretary and wasn’t taking notes, but I’m enthusiastic about the organization and want to share a few thoughts and memories.

To me the most exciting topics we discussed afternoon were (1) the Big Dream Conference in Pawleys Island, SC on October 27-29 and (2) the Petigru Review.

The Big Dream Conference promises to be inspiring, instructional, and exciting. Fun, too. Not only will attendees have an opportunity to learn more about the craft of writing, but they’ll also get to mix and mingle with other authors and to pitch their work to an agent. There are a total of eighteen (repeat, eighteen) classes to choose from, so there’s something for everyone. Check out the website at http://www.myscwa.org/2017-conference/ for more details.

From what I heard from the editors of The Petigru Review, a journal created as a forum to give members an opportunity to publish their best works, this year’s selection process is especially competitive. From the website, “Every journal has guest judges who pick only the most polished and promising pieces for publication. Only those works the judges deemed worthy of publication are published.” I might add that while most people who submit poetry, fiction, and nonfiction are members of SCWA, many are not. Membership is not a requirement.

A few Board members had to leave the meeting early to meet with a chapter in Columbia. Three of us stayed behind and had a delightful conversation. I jotted down a quote from a young enthusiastic member and have thought of it almost daily since then: “Every tradition has its blessings and its curses. Deal with the blessings only.” I agree for the most part. I try to concentrate on the blessings and give the curses short shrift.

I also learned the origins of voodoo and hoodoo and heard the expression, “The medium is the message” for the first time. Still pondering that one. The three of us shared ideas from our favorite books on writing* and reluctantly left Panera an hour later. As I drove home, I thought for the hundredth time how much being a part of a writing group has helped me. My local writer friends don’t always tell me what I want to hear, but they always tell me what I need to hear, and they have never steered me wrong.

If you’re a writer, consider joining the organization. There’s likely a chapter within thirty miles of where you live, and if not, well, maybe you could create one. Whether your writing consists of journaling, story telling, poetry, essays……whatever, there are people who could help you by critiquing your work, offering tips, and encouraging you. And you could do the same for them.

In the meantime, take a look at the conference page and consider joining us at the beach this fall!

  • *Ron Carlson Writes a Story, Ron Carlson
  • Bird by Bird, Ann Lamott
  • Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg
Posted in anthologies, books, books on writing, critique groups, generative writing groups, journal writing, Uncategorized, writing, writing projects, writing workshops | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment