Do This. Don’t Do That.

I’ve been a slacker in the blogging department lately, not because I don’t have anything to say but rather because I’ve been speaking my truth in other areas. Plus, although I always did my best (with what I knew at the time) on my blogs, now that I know more about do’s and don’ts, I’m less eager to share something until it’s perfect. But alas, we know that never happens–not with me, not with anyone.

Hmm. Hard to believe I once kept up four blogs at one time: one for psychology students as a way of earning extra credit (for them, not me), one about women in the Bible, one about a mother’s musings, and the fourth about writing. The first two have been axed, but the second two still get a lick and a promise. Ouch. I can hear the groaning of my writing friends who read those clichés.

Do this. Don’t do that. It’s a lot for a gal to keep up with. Let’s stick to some do’s tonight.

Do use active voice. Example from yesterday. One of my grandsons, age five, described some angry actions of one of his brothers. “He bit me like a dog,” he said and cut his eyes towards me to gauge my reaction. I knew he was exaggerating and reminded him of how he had reportedly scratched his sister’s arm because she was singing.

“But her singing hurt my head,” he said, jabbing his forehead for emphasis.

Feel free to begin a sentence with and or but regardless of what your high school English teacher said. Reportedly, Justice Scalia felt beginning a sentence with But added more flow and verve. Last week, I listened to Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips podcast and was amused by the example of using However vs. But in Robert Frost’s “Walking by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

“However, I have promises to keep,” just doesn’t have the same impact as “But I have promises to keep.”

Expand your vocabulary. I agree wholeheartedly with this. It’s more effective to say sweltering than very hot, for example, and yet there comes a time when a smaller word or more commonly used word is more appropriate. If you decide to use a lesser known word, consider defining it for your reader. “It’s been a long spell since we’ve had a friendly chat, a coze.”

You’ll have to be the judge of what to use and when to use it, but Stephen King’s advice seems spot on. “One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed.”

Vary paragraph length. Many of us learned to organize our thoughts to fit nicely into a five-paragraph essay. The first and last paragraphs could/should contain three sentences, but the middle three paragraphs needed five to be considered developed. Sometimes I had a wee problem with that guideline. Sometimes I wanted to vary paragraph length based on how it looked rather than what it said. I didn’t though. I was a timid little rule follower.

But then I joined a writing group, and all bets were off, in a manner of speaking. One brave writer encouraged me to write one sentence paragraphs. Blasphemy! I thought. But I did it, and it felt great. The words and their placement on the page actually looked and read differently too. They were more attention grabbing and powerful.

These days I encourage some in my critique group to shorten a paragraph just because it looks better. Sometimes they nod their heads politely and pay me no mind. Other times, they concur with my suggestion, especially if I tell them I got it from King. “Paragraphs are almost always as important for how they look as for what they say.”

What are some of your do’s? No don’t’s tonight please.

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Live Seasons

While a writer of Annie Dillard’s stature doesn’t need reviews the way our local writers’ group does (hint hint), people who ponder life’s mysteries and fleeting nature need to know more about her input on the subject. Now that I’ve read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and listened to it on Audible, I’ll never think the same way about the natural world again. I can’t see a shadow without remembering that outside shadows are blue because they’re lit by the blue sky rather than the yellow sun or walk in my front yard without thinking of the moles beneath the spongy ground.

There’s a lot to read and absorb and reread and ponder and investigate. Dillard says that like the bear, she went over the mountain to see what she could see. Through her eyes, I’ve seen more than I ever imagined was “out there.” Here’s the Amazon review:

“How can you not like a nonfiction book that’s both informational and interesting? Entertaining too. Seriously, if I’d had exposure to texts that made science even remotely as engaging and intriguing as this one, I might have been become an ornithologist or entomologist. Who knew that the average size of all living animals, including humans, is almost that of a horsefly or that the average temperature of Earth is 57 degrees Fahrenheit? Not I, at least not until reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

“Dillard’s musings on life, both ours as humans and that of the planet’s inhabitants (from muskrats to mites), trees, rocks, creeks, clouds, and mountains, give the reader a fascinating perspective on nature and on life itself. I’ll never walk out in the front yard again without thinking of the moles burrowing beneath the soil or the starlings let loose in Central Park in 1890. I’ll never stand beside a creek without remembering its rushing, fleeting nature being a metaphor for life. One thing I will remember is the admonition to “Catch it if you can….These are our few live seasons. Let us live them as purely as we can, in the present.”

“This book was first recommended to me by some writer friends after I mentioned that I was reading (at that time) For the Time Being. “You have to read Pilgrim,” they all practically shouted at me. Now I know why. The prose, the information, the visual pictures of Tinker Mountain and its surroundings, the vocabulary (chitin, oriflamme, bastinado for starters), and the references to spiritual and scientific sources make this book a must-read.”

One of my daughters and I visited Chimney Rock, NC this past weekend, and while there, we repeated something we’d done with the rest of the clan a few Thanksgivings ago. We walked out on to the rocks and boulders in the rushing creek behind the shops and restaurants and took a picture. Unlike the family photo taken years ago, this one was a selfie.

We were smiling, happy to be alive and experiencing the wild, fast, loud creek rushing around and above and beyond us. I thought of Dillard’s reminder that this is a lighted season.  “I never merited this grace,” she said. Nor did I. But hallelujah, I’ll take it.

 

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Lucinda and the Rain

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By the time I got the seedless red grapes, Granny Smith apples, Jiffy cornbread, and chicken noodle soup in the car to head to my daughter’s house, I realized I was probably going to be a little late. No problem, I thought. She’s making brownies for dessert and isn’t going to do that until after she gets home around 5:00 o’clock.

 The steady but gentle rain the coastal area had been experiencing for a couple of hours worsened as I drove inland towards Conway. Traffic was slow and stop-and-go until I got to Coastal Carolina. Then it came to a dead stop. No inching along. No nothing. Must be a terrible wreck. Hope no one is seriously injured, I thought, knowing that my hope was likely in vain.

Vehicles gradually began to inch forward, and after about twenty minutes, I was sitting at the intersection of Hwy. 501 Business and Hwy. 90, a distance that can ordinarily be covered in five minutes. The rain pelted the windshields, and I noticed the back wiper wildly swishing away the water. All I could see was a long string yellow lights behind me. Red headlights lay ahead as far as the eye could see.

I shivered involuntarily. Although it was not yet 6:00 o’clock, the sky was dark and gray except for the unrelenting rain seen through the headlights of my car and hundreds of others. Dismal, I thought. And gloomy.

 I felt rather than saw a presence to my right and was startled to see a woman standing there in the rain. Without umbrella or raincoat, she wore a head covering of some type and a white sign with black letters. It was too dark to decipher all the words, but I felt her message. She was a woman in need. We locked eyes for a couple of seconds before I reached into my purse and rummaged for some money. I found five dollars and lowered the window.

The woman approached. She looked early 50’s but could have been much younger. Her brown hair was medium length and matted, and some of her top teeth were broken. She leaned down towards the window and looked at me, her eyes sad yet hopeful.I didn’t say anything, just handed her the bill. “Thank you,” she said before asking, “What’s your name?”

“Jayne,” I replied.

She smiled a smile that broke my heart. Except for the grace of God, go I.

 Well, thank you, Jayne.”

“No problem,” I replied.

“You didn’t ask, but my name’s Lucinda.” (not her real name)

I gulped. She might have been homeless or hungry or both, but the lone woman standing in the rain outside of my nice cozy Highlander had an identity. I made a mental note of that before responding, “Well, you better get someplace dry, Lucinda. It’s nasty out tonight.”

She gave me that sweet, melancholy smile again and backed away from the car.

I moved ahead in the line of traffic, looking through my rear view mirror towards the back windshield. I couldn’t see her. Had Lucinda been an apparition? No, she and I had shared a moment on a cold, rainy March night.

Thirty minutes later I was sharing soup and cornbread and brownies with Elizabeth and Travis. We shared conversation, laughter, and conviviality around Elizabeth’s table. What was Lucinda doing while we basked in warmth and buttered our bread? What is she doing today? Where will she spend tonight? She’s just one person. There are thousands of invisible people whose identity we don’t know.

Is there a lesson in this story? I don’t know. All I know is that it was a surreal encounter and that I’ll never take my good fortune for granted again. Jayne with warmth, nourishment, and loved ones. Lucinda with ???

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Emma’s Boost

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In the years since retirement, I’ve read and listened to all sorts of advice about writing. Don’t use “it” so often. Show, don’t tell. Don’t be so thematically heavy-handed. Use said, not murmured or yelled. Make your dialogue realistic. Stay away from passive voice. 

What an awakening I’ve had. Several, in fact. This afternoon I’m thinking of two short instructions that make sense to me:

  1. Write what you know.
  2. Write something people actually want to read.

I know a lot about teaching two-year college students. Not boasting, just saying. During thirty-plus years in the classroom, I filled some other roles, including that of department chair, but first and foremost. I was a teacher. Some teachers see the classroom as a means to an end and desire to become promoted. Others are anxious to land positions requiring more research and less interaction with students. Not I. Each time, I crossed the threshold into a classroom, I felt the magic.

A couple of years ago, I decided to write a short book of guidelines for novice teachers. Why not share some of the things I’d learned throughout nearly three and a half decades?

I finished a manuscript, even inserted advice from co-workers and sections of blog posts, and then I put it aside, all 96 pages of it. The manuscript bored me. How could I expect peers to read it without falling asleep? I began second guessing myself about its value, and regardless of how I tried to jazz it up, the tone was too instructional and dull. Did today’s teachers really need to know a list of do’s and don’t’s? Would they yawn through the “back in the day” paragraphs?

I didn’t want to be too heavy on pedagogy, and yet some principles are important.

  • Know your subject matter. Study, study, study, and then look over it one more time. I read once that the secret to successful teaching is learning in the morning what you’re teaching that afternoon and talking about it as if you’ve known it all of your life. There’s much, much more to it than that, but knowledge of subject matter is essential.
  • Learn how to say, “I don’t know.” You aren’t fooling anyone, not even a kindergartner, when you try to bluff your way through something. I’ve followed Mark Twain’s advice on many occasions and have never regretted it: “I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.”
  • Keep learning. Things are constantly changing, both in your field, technology, and the world at large.
  • Be a reflective practitioner. Think, ponder, and “reflect” on what’s really happening:
    • Could you be part of the problem?
    • Can you be open-minded enough to learn from your mistakes….or to realize that perhaps you don’t have all the answers?
    • Is what you’re doing working?

This afternoon I’ve been looking over the manuscript and realize it’s now or never. The core of the book is there. Now it needs some soul to give it pizazz and vitality. I even have a cover, a picture drawn and colored by one of my granddaughters. While some people might think it looks childish and unprofessional, I think Emma’s drawing sets the tone for the message within. My students are not smaller than I, but I realize that’s her perception at the moment. Few teachers use chalkboards these days, and the idea of me teaching math is hilarious. Still, I love Emma’s drawing.

I might change my mind about the blond teacher before publication, but for now I’m using a child’s vision and courage as reminders not to take myself so seriously and to “go for it.”

Posted in books, books on teaching, community college teaching, professions, self publishing, teaching profession, Uncategorized, writing projects, writing tips | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

More than Something to Drink

I agree with Pat Conroy who said the four most beautiful words in the English language are, “Tell me a story.” Tonight’s drop-in at the Kershaw County Library verified Conroy’s assertion and my belief.

I arrived at the library a few minutes past 5:30, the time the drop-in was to begin, and took in a couple of dozen bottles of water, part of my contribution for tonight’s event. I could hear Douglas Wyant, chapter president, talking so I knew things were already underway. Good, I thought. I can sneak out undetected to get the rest of the water, the fruit tray, and the bookmarks I had created as mementoes.

Everything was going reasonably well until I dropped eight bottles of water, some of which rolled into the parking lot and under the car. Drat. Now what am I supposed to do?

 I didn’t have time to get into a full-blown pity party because within five seconds, I heard, “Can I help you carry something?” I looked up to see the kindest face I’d seen in, well, an hour or so at least.

“I hate to ask you to help me. I mean, that’s not what you came to the library for, I’m sure.”

She didn’t reply, just took the sixteen bottles (I was feeling especially optimistic about our potential turnout) and waited to make sure I could balance the fruit tray and cookie tin containing the bookmarks.

“You’re an angel to come to my rescue like this. Aren’t those bottles heavy?”

“Not at all. When my brother died, I just sort of stepped up and started helping my mother do all kinds of things. My sisters were already out of the house, and it was just me and Mama.”

I asked her what happened to her brother, and we talked about as we walked towards the main entrance. Although the cause of death was technically an accident, he lingered in a coma for several months, thus preparing the family for his ultimate “transition.”

“Is there any good way to die?” I asked. Is lingering better than suddenly being snatched out of the midst of loved ones and friends?

 Not wanting to interrupt the Q & A session that had begun, we put the goodies on a table and continued our conversation. My good Samaritan’s father had passed away a few months before her brother was injured in the accident, and losing both males of the family in such a short period of time helped cement the strong interdependent bond between mother and daughter.

“Oh yes, we’re close. But my father and I were close too. He’s the one who taught me the importance of family…and of being kind to other people, too. If there was one thing he couldn’t stand, it was somebody looking down on another person ’cause they thought they were better.”

“Sounds like a wonderful role model for you and your siblings.”

“Oh, he was. He was,” she added with a sweet smile.

Someone beckoned me in, and I invited (gently pressured) my new acquaintance into the room. She stayed the whole time, and before leaving, Mary (not her real name) said she was going to start keeping a journal. She drank a bottle of that water she’d brought in, said she’d been inspired by the stories she’d heard, ate a fruitcake cookie, and selected a bookmark.

That might seem like an ordinary event in an ordinary day. It was and it wasn’t. Mary and I think it was serendipitous. I needed help with water bottles, and she needed a nudge to write her story/stories. As an attendee remarked when hearing Mary speak about our meeting in the parking lot, “Water’s more than something to drink. It’s everything…so many meanings, so many metaphors.”

The Camden Writers had a reasonably good turnout tonight, and I can truthfully say that all who attended had a good time and are thinking of stories, both past and present, and of writing them for posterity.

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Ramona and Alessandro

So many books, so little time.

I don’t know when I first discovered the power of the written word. Not that I don’t like the oral tradition of story telling, but the written is special in that you can go back to it time and time again. If you need to be uplifted, edified, transported, scared out of your wits, live another life (vicariously, of course), identify with a hero, stretch your imagination, or simply learn, read something.

There’s nothing like fiction or creative nonfiction for enhancing understanding of self and others…and of this world and its many cultures and traditions. I enjoy other types of literature too, but tonight my focus is on a work of historical fiction that is both informational and inspirational.

I knew next to nothing about life in California during the late 1800’s. But then I read Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson, and my eyes and heart were opened. I’ve been remiss in reviewing it until this afternoon. I’m sharing the review here, hoping something in it will encourage you to read this classic novel for yourself.

“I might not have discovered this amazing book had if not for Garrison Keillor and “The Writer’s Almanac.” After hearing him describe Ramona, I purchased the Kindle edition from Amazon that very day and enjoyed reading the painful saga of how Mexicans and Native Americans in California were treated during the second half of the 19th century.

“Ramona was but a small child when adopted by “the Senora” who raised Ramona and her own son, Felipe. From the beginning, Ramona is treated coldly and dismissively by her adoptive mother. Although it pains Felipe to see his adoptive sister so maltreated, he is powerless against his strong and manipulative mother. A love story develops between Ramona and Alessandro, a Mexican hired to work on the estate. Their romance is under a shadow from its beginning, and things go from bad to worse as their life together progresses. Anyone with a conscience will experience genuine heartache as he or she reads of the couple’s several trials and of the horrid treatment by the Americans.

“To me, it’s a book about man’s inhumanity to man and how some people are broken by it while others suffer and yet remain intact (at least on the outside). They go on. They persevere. It’s also a story of love and faith and hope. And it’s a history book, too. The facts, the landscape, and the culture—they’re all there.

“Although I thoroughly enjoyed the book, there’s one little thing I feel I must mention, something that slowed me down in the second part of the novel: the dialect of the people from Tennessee. Page after page of their native speech was a bit trying to get through, and yet skipping it was not an option if I wanted to get the essence of

“Interestingly, the book has never been out of print, and I can see why. I just wish other people knew about it.”

I’ve never had to suffer like Ramona and Alessandro, but after reading this classic novel, I understand more about the nature of prejudice and the importance of culture in shaping one’s world.

What about you? What’s something you’ve read that has enlightened or affected you in some way?

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Persimmon Wilson

A few years ago, I was browsing through a bookstore in Myrtle Beach when I came across a book titled A Broom of One’s Own by Nancy Peacock. Curious, I picked it up and began spot reading, jumping from chapter to chapter and reading snippets of the work. Within thirty seconds, I added the book to my stash, and that was the day I became a Nancy Peacock fan.

Since that afternoon in Myrtle Beach, I’ve read Home Across the Road, Life Without Water, and The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson. I recently learned that “place” is as much a character as the human ones, and Nancy does a superb job of demonstrating that. Roseberry, the home across the road, figures largely in the lives of generations of Redds, and some of the interactions and events that occurred there force the reader (at least this one) to ponder the significance of actions and “things” in the lives of families, past and present. Suffice it to say that I purchased some abalone shells to distribute to friends to whom I shared bits and pieces of the narrative.

Here’s the review I posted to Amazon of Peacock’s The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson this morning.

“Thanks to Nancy Peacock and this intense and educational book, I now know much more about slavery, sugar plantations, Native Americans, geography, and American history during the Civil War era. I’ve also seen love, evil, friendship, pluck, determination, and several reminders of man’s inhumanity to man. The author is masterful in character development.

“When the book opens, Persimmon Wilson is in jail awaiting a hanging that is soon to take place, his own. Persy has been beaten, practically starved, nearly frozen to death, shot, and almost drowned. A former slave on a sugar plantation who later became a Comanche Indian, Persy has led quite an interesting and hard life. In jail, he’s writing his story, a story that needs to be told to set the record straight.

“After a couple of hours of reading this novel, I came downstairs and announced that I’d been with Persy, “a black Indian,” when his friends died and when he was later captured by some Comanche warriors. My husband seemed interested so I continued with, “Cold, hungry, and often alone, Persy is on a quest to find Chloe, a former slave whom he loves dearly.”

“Does he find Chloe? Does he really hang? These and other questions are answered in this wonderfully written book. Except for my heartache when reading about the hardscrabble lives of many of the characters (all well drawn), I loved this book. From the dialogue to the scene descriptions and everything in-between, The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson is a great read.”

Persy is a persevering, strong, memorable character whose story is powerful. Reading about him reminds me that there are untold numbers of people who live and die under harsh conditions and tyranny…then and now.

 

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Do It Anyway

I’d been waiting for the bomb to drop. Not knowing who would be the first to criticize or question the Camden Writers’ latest anthology, What I Wish I Could Tell You, I felt on alert and anxious whenever anyone brought it up.

I just didn’t expect the criticism to come from within my own circle.

“I don’t understand how some of these pieces got in the book. They’re not even interesting.”

Okay, thanks. I’ll take your opinion under consideration.

“Who is Annie Dillard? I’ve never heard of her, and I don’t think you should make references to people most readers have never heard of.”

I can’t believe you said that…and I can’t believe you’ve never heard of Annie Dillard either.

“What’s up with all those recipes? You can get them online, you know.” (This was said with a wink and a snicker.)

We were just trying to please the readers of Serving Up Memory who clamored for more. Silly us.

 Song lyrics? I think you tried to include too much.”

Well, it’s an anthology, and we thought these pieces would add something special, especially since they’re about South Carolina.

 At some point, I recalled these words: “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” I’m attributing this quote to Elbert Hubbard, but I’ve seen Aristotle and others named as possible authors. I’ll leave it to my critics to track down the original source.

What’s ironic is that there is no way to avoid criticism and censure. There will always be those who call you out for being lazy, unmotivated, untalented, ignorant, liberal, conservative, or fearful. Not even Jane Austen escaped some severe judgment calls. Mark Twain seemed to loathe her work and once described a good library as one containing none of her books. “Just that one omission would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn’t a book in it,” Twain wrote in Following the Equator.

I have a friend who’s been hard at work researching and writing a book that I believe would be of value to many people. I’ve pretty much stopped asking her about her progress, however…not because I don’t care but rather because I don’t want to further pressure her. “I’m afraid of what people will say,” she’s told me on more than one occasion.

I couldn’t lie. I told her the truth, that people would most certainly have their say about whatever she wrote. “You’ve just got to believe in it enough to publish your book anyway.” For good measure, I added, “You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

 End of rant. Those of us who contributed to What I Wish I Could Tell You are glad we did. We had stories to tell, poems and recipes to share, and thoughts to express. Rather than wish and hope that someday we’d do something about the memories and ideas, we decided to follow Susan Jeffers advice from Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. 

Jeffers’ #5 Fear Truth: “Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.” While scary, it’s much more satisfying and fulfilling to say yes to challenges, opportunities, and that little voice that nudges you to try something new.

Yes, the criticism is bruising. But yes, the Camden Writers would do it again. We’d rather be judged for what we did rather than for something we procrastinated about. What about you?

Posted in books, Camden Writers, courage, fear, memoir, reading, Uncategorized, writers, writing groups, writing projects | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A Chance Encounter

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Hot chocolate in one hand and a shopping bag in the other, I navigated my way through the jam-packed coffee shop looking for two things: an electric outlet and an empty seat. Lucky me. I found an outlet right away, and after I plugged in my iPhone, I heard a sweet voice saying, “Let me move over for you. Come, sit down.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “I don’t want to crowd anyone.”

Not taking no for an answer, a pretty middle-aged woman with dark hair patted the seat next to her and gave me the most sincere, welcoming smile I’d seen all day. We began chitchatting, and I told her I was in the city with friends. An NYC native, she told me she’d been searching for just the perfect gift for her physical therapist.

“I don’t know whether this will help you or not, but I saw Sing with my grandchildren last week, and one of the characters said something like, ‘Let the gift find you.’”

When she gave me a quizzical look, I said, “Maybe you’re trying too hard. But since you’re in Macy’s, why not get her a gift card? That way she can pick out something she really likes.”

She laughed. “I was making it so hard when really that would be perfect.”

We then moved on to her damaged shoulder, the one the therapist was helping her with. A work injury had necessitated rotator cuff surgery, and weeks of therapy followed. I checked my phone for its charge and the time before asking how the tear had occurred.

Our light banter ended, and the conversation took a serious turn.

“Twenty-five years of lifting patients caught up with me,” she said, adding, “I don’t think I can do it anymore.”

“You probably just need to give yourself more time. How long has it been?”

“I don’t mean physically. I just don’t see how I can go back to the oncology floor. All that suffering….”

“It takes a special person to work with cancer patients. My mother died of cancer, and she was a trooper. She fought hard for five years, and then three weeks before her death, she told us  she was ready to ‘go.’”

“Did you argue with her? Tell her not to be foolish?”

I winced at the recollection of that morning in my mother’s kitchen when she delivered the news. “You didn’t argue with her. She was a feisty lady who never put up with back talk from her kids.”

“Sometimes family members just won’t let loved ones go. Even if they can’t walk, talk, or eat, people try to hold on to them. I’ve seen patients in so much pain they go from one morphine drip to the next, and still, someone stands around the bed talking about a new drug or an experimental treatment.”

“But it’s hard,” I said. “Giving up hope and watching someone you love die is, well, it’s horrible.”

Was I really having this conversation with a stranger in Starbucks?

The gentle stranger leaned towards me and said, “What’s important is that you keep your spirit strong. No matter who you are or what you’re going through, you have to have faith.”

She pointed to the ceiling. “You have to have faith in our Heavenly Father who created us and loves us.”

She continued. “He’s helped me so much in my life. I have four children that I raised by myself. Every week the Yogi Bear truck would come to our neighborhood and bring treats for the children. But first…first, they had to listen to the word of God.”

“Sort of like a church on wheels?”

“Something like that.”

My new acquaintance scrolled through her iPhone photos until she found one of her four children, all beautiful and smiling at the camera. She touched each face gently with her forefinger and told the child’s name and current occupation. One was a college grad working in the city, one was in college, and two were in high school.”

While I was admiring her children, she repeated, “Remember, you must keep your spirit strong. Stay away from negative people, people who bring you down.”

“Hey, you’re singing my song,” I told her. “Two of my favorite phrases are ‘detach with love’ and ‘sidestep negative energy.’”

She nodded before continuing. She had seen a seven-day-old infant with a chemo bag attached to his tiny body. “He died anyway,” she said. “I just can’t watch it anymore. The drugs, the false hope. It’s more than I can bear.”

We chatted a few more minutes about keeping our spirits strong, having faith in God, and loving others. We hugged before parting, and she told me her name was Yvette with a y. I told her I was Jayne with a y, and we hugged again before going our separate ways.

I walked down the curved staircase to Macy’s main floor and quickly found my friends at the Michael Kors counter. “Ya’ll wouldn’t believe what happened to me,” I said. “But it’s too noisy to talk about it here.”

We slid on our gloves, adjusted our scarves and hats, and walked out among the holiday shoppers in Herald Square.

Posted in chance encounters, New York City, Macy's, stories, travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Keeping the Tennis Court

 

It’s one of those days when I can’t seem to get my mojo going. I have lots of thoughts and ideas, but—wait, maybe that’s my problem: too many memories and thoughts and feelings swirling around in my head to narrow something down and focus, focus, focus. And then there’s the fact that I need to finish preparing a lesson for tomorrow, tweak my classes for next week, and do a little something to promote What I Wish I Could Tell You, the anthology recently published by our local writing group.

I think I’ll zero in on the anthology. It’s our second. The first one, Serving Up Memory, was published in November, 2014. It was so rewarding to compile, revise, edit, and produce that we decided to do something along the same lines in 2016. Group members submitted poetry, song lyrics, stories, and recipes for critique and revision—for months.

I’m not sure whether this is the usual modus operandi, but for us, the process took much longer than we originally thought it would. People submitted late. Some balked at suggested revisions. Speaking of balking, it’s a natural and expected reaction. Very few people accept constructive criticism (even if it’s merited), and in the end, the editors decided to defer to the wishes of the individual writer to preserve the integrity of his or her work.

Quick example of the above: One of my stories involved moving out of a home, one loved by every member of our family. There was a neglected tennis court on the property, and although the children never used it in a serious way except for playing basketball, the court was still there, an ever-present component. We even held a yard sale there one year to help raise money for a Team-in-Training marathon in Alaska.

But I digress. Some fellow  writers thought the mention of the tennis court in the story was unnecessary, perhaps even pretentious. How many homes in “regular” neighborhoods have tennis courts? In my heart and mind, I saw the fenced-in rectangle with its pushed-up concrete and weeds as integral to the story. We loved every inch of that property, and to exclude the tennis court seemed disloyal to our years there. Sounds crazy, but ‘tis true.

The process of actually putting the work together began in earnest in late September, a month later than anticipated. And still, stories trickled in. Kathryn Lovatt, Douglas Wyant, and I began the concentrated tasks of proofing, editing, and formatting…many times. From Serving Up Memory, “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.

Already a fan of Mignon Fogarty’s podcast, Grammar Gal’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Better Writing, I ordered her book by the same name. Later, I purchased The Grammar Devotional and referred to it often during the editorial process, an activity that was indeed a balancing act between absolute correctness and respect for the author’s voice. Using slang was okay. Leaving two spaces after a period was not.

We’re happy with our communal work and hope you’ll take a look at it. From the cover to the recipes and poetry and the stories to the photography, it’s a great read—and perfect for a day like today in snowy South Carolina. And by the way, whether you’ve ever had a tennis court on your property or not, “Moving On” is a story that could apply to everyone reading this post. So could the other selections.

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