book review

An excellent book, copyright 2009, written with humor about a newly-retired, old-fashioned, gay lawyer, his eccentric ex-wife's rocky entry into widowhood, and his now-adult stepdaughter's re-entry into his quiet life. Since newbie writer's are encouraged to seriously study first sentences so they can create their own first sentence that sparkles, how does Lipman, author of nine previous books, begin this one?

Henry Archer did not attend his ex-wife’s husband’s funeral, but he did send a note of condolence. The former Denise Archer wrote back immediately and urgently: Would he believe, after twenty-four reasonably happy years, that life as she knew it had been snatched out from under her?
— The Family Man by Elinor Lipman

A sparkly beginning? Well, maybe not sparkly but it grabs me. It makes me ask questions. Why would he even think to attend that funeral? And then there's the next sentence which clinches it for me.

Her postscript said, “Your number’s unlisted. Call me,” and there it was, a bridge he’d never planned to cross.
— The Family Man by Elinor Lipman

Why did he bother to send her a sympathy card? Obviously, he had felt no need to be in touch with her previously. And doesn't she sound needy as well as demanding?

Between the beginning paragraph, the title of Chapter 1 (I Hate You Still), and the cover flap description, I was hooked and each chapter continued to pull me and draw me into the world she had created and the eyes out of which I looked into her world. I needed that kind of a break from my own life.   

Have you ever found books which entered your life during a time in which you needed that specific type of book? 

living as if

Grieving for the death of a loved one when it hasn't yet completely sunk in. Surely he's just in the next room and I just need to call his name and he will be back out. Surely she just went to the store and will be back in due time. 

And my mind spins along a drunken trail that weaves in and out of memories and reality, of family togetherness that sometimes becomes too much, of compassion that is there for others but not necessarily for self.

So I live as if life is going on as normal. As much as I can.

The same thing with the writerly life. I live as if I am a writer. For I am. I do not earn a living at it. Not yet. Maybe never. But I write. 

I walked this afternoon and picked up three books from a Little Library: Bluebeard's Egg by Margaret Atwood, Julia & the Master of Morancourt by Janet Aylmer, and The Family Man by Elinor Lipman. That shows you how unfocused my mind is--a collection of short stories, a regency romance, and a comedy.  

I had started reading Henna House last month by Nomi Eve, enthralled by the story until the half-way point. It's about a young Yemenite Jewish girl in the 1920s, her fear of the Confiscator, and the complicated dynamics of oppression, and the lack of safety and security. Fascinating story. But I began to feel too heavy with dread for what might come. And so I will put it away for now, to read completely at some later date. 

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Veil between worlds

It was dark. From the nursing home window, I watched my daughter help Mom brush off her car, two figures dimly lit under the parking lot lights, snow thickly drifting, obscuring the bluffs beyond them. 

Dad had not woken up since he went to sleep two nights ago. He had never rallied that day after the needed paracentesis to ease his breathing. 

The hospice nurse had visited with us about what might or might not happen in this next stage, how long it might or might not last. And so family members, in turns, stayed the nights with Dad.  

It was my turn. 

I watched from the window. And as Mom drove away, Dad's breath quieted. He had closed his lips. I went over to him, to speak to him, to touch him. And on that soft snowy evening, he left our world to enter the next.

 

...the air of the eternal seeping through the physical, the everlasting glory dipping into time.

Rev. George F. MacLeod, Founder of the Iona Community, Scotland

Women's History Month

Yes, my care giving and caring for the primary care giver continues. But I'm ready to get back to some of my normal again.

It's March, Women's History Month, which is celebrated in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. 

Much as I had a person in their 70s ask me, "Why do we need to rewrite history books? History doesn't change." so too, I  had a man ask me, "Why don't we have a month to celebrate men's accomplishments?"

History doesn't change but there are accomplishments and inventions in the United States by people of color that were not printed in the history books that I learned from when I went to grade school.

And inequity still exists between men and women. Which is why it makes sense to have a Women's History Month because men's accomplishments are recognized on a daily basis.  

And with that thought in mind, I wanted to share an article from the blog, densho.org which highlights the hidden history and accomplishments of five Japanese American women, who were incarcerated during WWII, simply for being of Japanese heritage.  

care giving and the care giver

The weeks are catching up with me as our family responds to chronic illness. We are caring for the ill person. And we are caring for the main caregiver.

It saps time and energy as we try to sort through the variety of options available to help us, financially and physically.

And adapt to a new way of living.

Today is a day off for me. From work. And from caring. 

And so I sit alone in my home in the February sunlight, relishing this moment, this time. 

Family networks--whether by blood or adoption or committed intergenerational friendships--are a necessity when tough times come. And families need the support of community agencies when illness strikes. We need the expertise and the service of the nurse, the social worker, the home health aid, the veteran services, the hospice worker.

As family, we pull together the best we can and care for one another as we live through these days. 

My Writing Space

I don't have an author's office in my home. I don't have a desktop computer. I use a transportable laptop and my dining room table which sits by an east facing window.

You'll notice a couple of things in the picture: blankets to wrap up in the morning when it's chilly and I've not yet turned up the thermostat, an old pillow to sit on, and a box on the floor to rest my feet on (I'm short-legged). 

My craft books, for the present, are shelved in my bedroom until we construct a bookshelf in our living room.

This is my small selection of books so far, squeezed between Georgette Heyer books and thrift books. The narrow blue book is James Scott Bell's Writing Your Novel From the Middle. It's only the past 3 years that I've purchased books about the craft of writing. That's when I became a more intentional fiction writer, more serious about finishing up my story.

And where am I in my story writing process?

After a couple of critique partners had read it chapter-by-chapter over the past year, I created a more complete and full-fledged draft (as in, perhaps, no plot holes). I had two paper copies made in October.

I gave one to my first beta reader. She had not read my story except an early draft, way-back-when, of the first chapter.

I let my paper copy sit during November. Then I read it through in December. As a reader. And read through it again with a red pen in hand.

Yup. Some boring parts. Some illogical parts (still!) that needed to either be cut or fleshed out. And some wonderful parts.

I am now retyping it with both paper copies as references.

As of today, I'm almost 1/3 of the way through the story. I've been derailed since mid-January by a chronic illness in my family as we try to sort how to best provide care and support. Because right now, that's my priority.

My hope is to finish this revision and get it out to another beta reader, perhaps my critique partners (if they're not tired of the story), by June.

Will it be ready to query literary agents in 2017? That is my hope and that is my aim. 

Time

 

The Greeks have two words for time: chronos and kairos.

From chronos, we receive the English words chronology and chronological. It is the ticking clock of time, the measured beat moving forward, the earth's steady sweep around the sun. 

Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning an opportune moment, the right moment. It is the seize-the-day moment, the peek at eternity, the breaking into chronos and expanding space within that beat.  Kairos somehow breaks into the ticking clock of time yet does not disturb the progression of time.  

I believe we saw both measures of time happening this week past in our national life.

There was the steady march of a regular pattern in the political life of the U.S. at the occurance of the inauguration and peaceful transfer of power as President Obama stepped down and Trump became president. And there was that seize-the-day moment of the Women's March, as women and men and children, white and people of color, here in the U.S. and internationally stood up for human rights--women's rights, GLBTQ rights, black rights, environmental rights, Native American rights, Asian rights, the right to health care, the right to have clean water to drink.

 I also found both measures of time happening this week past in my personal life as my family dealt with an emergency hospitalization, the question of Do Not Intubate/Do Not Resuscitate, and the recovery process as we waited and stayed the night in a waiting room in the Intensive Care Unit.

Whether we face mortality or the dissonance of values desired and values placed in a national office, those kairos moments occur. And we have a choice of what to do: we can pretend its not happening or we can look it square in the face and be frank in our conversation, honest in our body language. 

As a person of faith, I believe those kairos moments are the expression of the ever-living presence of the Eternal Spirit who swoops from her resting place in our hearts and--with our acquiescence to God's call, God's dream--exits our mouths, our hands, our feet.     

Encouragement in troublesome times

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Monday. Have we made it very far in bringing about the Beloved Community?

People rallied in many places on Sunday for the preservation of the Affordable Care Act (also known as ACA and Obamacare), that our representatives and senators not completely gut or drop it before there is a replacement. Too many people rely on the ACA to provide basic health care needs. This week many women, in Washington DC and in many states, will gather after inauguration day to stand in solidarity for the rights of women, children, and families, and the vulnerable to be protected. 

We are so small in this vast universe. Yet we feel our small lives so viscerally. Enya's song--Hope has a Place--expresses it perfectly.

And I finish this blog, after spending the night trying to sleep in a waiting room in an Intensive Care Unit at a hospital. Today there is recovery and hope again for a loved one. One day at a time. 

Re-Framing

Remember that saying:

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me.

Do you believe it? Neither do I. 

Words are important.

If a child is called stupid too often, they will learn to internalize the message.

If a woman or a man, isolated by their spouse in an abusive marriage, is constantly belittled, he or she may believe this is the normal state of a marriage.

If a person with disabilities is consistently made fun of or ridiculed, with no one to stand up for them, their sense of adding value to their society will fall.  

It's time to re-frame our way of interpreting life, our way of living life. And January is a good month to do so. 

Let's start with something small. 

The following example came from a story that showed up on my facebook feed. When running late, a typical response is to say,

I’m sorry I’m late.

If we would like to re-frame our response, state instead, 

Thank you for waiting.

Can you see the change?

It’s not hugely different but the nuance makes a HUGE difference. It shifts the focus of the conversation:

  • from negative to positive
  • from I to you
  • from an attitude of judgment to an attitude of gratitude

Recently, a re-framing happened for one of my friends. She works at a retail store. Between Christmas and New Year's, she worked as cashier and a line of people waited to purchase or return items.   

A customer wanted to return a $3.00 sale item with a receipt. My friend pointed out the expired date on the receipt and explained store policy. The customer persisted. My friend tried to scan the receipt into the cash register. It refused to accept the receipt. My friend apologized and again explained that the item could not be returned.

The customer argued and became loud. My friend said she could certainly call the store manager up front but he probably wouldn't be able to change the results either because it was store policy (and as a franchise, corporate office not local stores make these decisions). The customer finally left, complaining with a loud voice about how terrible the store was treating her and she was never coming back.

My friend then waited in trepidation for the next customer.

Because sometimes, one customer like that sets the whole line of customers to give that cashier the same type of treatment. And the facial expressions and body language of the people in line did not look encouraging.

But, the next customer exclaimed loudly how much she enjoyed shopping at the store and she apologized for the previous customer's behavior. 

My friend relaxed, and looking at the line of people waiting, they had relaxed, smiled, started chattering with one another. 

That's all it takes. One person.

An Author's Day Schedule

I was fascinated this morning with Janice Hardy's work schedule. She crafts articles at Fiction University and is author of several YA novels as well as non-fiction books on the craft of writing. 

Adapting her schedule, I pulled one together that should work for me, considering I'm not a full-time writer as she is.

I don't know about you, but I'm good at putting butt-in-chair. But staying on task? Not so good.

If my phone chirrups that I've received a text, I'll respond to it. (As happened this morning.) 

If I feel momentarily stuck, I'll check my emails.

I might even check into a digital jigsaw puzzle site to spend 30+ minutes to put one together. I tell myself it's meditative and will stimulate my thinking. Except, it doesn't translate into more work done on the novel.

Today? Success! (Yes. Except for the aforementioned text)

How long will I keep to this schedule? I'll probably fall out of it before January ends. Life will inevitably interfere with any type of overly precise discipline.

I hope that at the beginning of each month that I will look at my writing schedule again and gently recalibrate my time to keep my focus on finishing up this novel and move into doing more serious work on my next book.