Monday, July 22, 2013

Forgive or Die

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison. ~ Nelson Mandela

Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die. ~ Anne Lamott

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. ~ Lewis B. Smedes


In the bible it says you have to forgive seventy times seven. I want you to know, I’m keeping a chart.  ~Hillary Rodham Clinton 

Okay, so you get the picture. Forgiveness. That’s what I’m talking about.  Because unforgiveness is a burden too big to bear.  Ask Corrie Ten Boom.  Ask Coretta Scott King, who said that hate injures the hater more than the hated. 

Sue Monk Kidd stated, “People in general would rather die than forgive. It’s THAT hard. If God said in plain language, ‘I’m giving you a choice: forgive or die,’ a lot of people would go ahead and order their coffin.”

How it’s done   

Deanne told me a story about her estranged father, how he’d never paid her any mind, never remembered her birthday, never gave her Christmas gifts or the time of day.     
      
“I decided that I’d have to be the one who reached out to him, and if he never reciprocated, so be it. I began sending him cards on his birthday and calling during the holidays, and just checking in every so often. I’m okay with the one-sided relationship because at least I know I’ve done my part.”

She told me her story exactly when I needed to hear it most.  When someone I deeply loved had wounded me so much that I was losing sleep.  And so I took her lead and began reaching out to that person. Then I wrote the whole painful story as fiction. That’s what you do when you have to “tell the truth but tell it slant.” 

Your turn

Now I want to hear from you.  Tell me about your experience with forgiveness – or the lack thereof should that be the case.  Throw off the albatross and move on. Release it on paper now. That’s how the healing begins. 

It doesn’t have to be major league drama. Nothing is too petty. Maybe you remember when your sister chopped off your favorite doll’s beautiful hair. Or your brother swiped your pack of Juicy Fruit gum and chewed every last stick.

Or maybe it IS high drama.  Maybe your wicked stepmother stole your inheritance from you and left you penniless and homeless. Maybe your neighbor hated your barking border collie, so he turned him out of the pen while you were gone to the store one day and Falstaff has never been seen again. 

And don’t forget to forgive yourself for that stupid thing you did.   If only you hadn’t taken the shotgun and blown the skylight to smithereens when your husband didn’t get around to repairing the leak…

If only you hadn’t told your dear friend that her new job as a census worker wasn’t exactly the most respected position in the world…


Write your story in any POV you like, as prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction. It matters not.  Go!  

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Lonely Place Apart



“My real writing is the stuff I do that takes my deepest energy, that requires me to slide into that space where everything else falls away.  I picture the space where I do my real writing as a quiet forest glen where there is sound but nothing I need to attend to, nothing that calls forth my intervention. It is serene, secluded, and I am alone there.”  ~ Andrea Cumbo

From what I’m hearing, other writers are struggling to juggle their blogging with their ‘real’ writing. Unknown Jim says his writing has been misplaced and it’s time for things to change.

His aim is to focus on fiction instead of spending so much time on social networking. He says, “It’s time to write what you REALLY want to write about…It might mean blogging less to just blog better…or writing an ebook, poem, or short story…”   

Or memoirs and magazine articles, which I must return to front burners and bring to full steam once again. This is why I’m taking a blogging sabbatical for the next several weeks - although I do hope to drop by and visit my friends on occasion. 

In an earlier post, The Music Within, I quoted Brian Doyle’s reasons for writing. These words bear repeating here, mainly to remind myself of why I write.

“Because like all human beings I have an innate drive to leave something shapely and permanent behind me, some marker or passage through the woods…I’d like to leave several books behind me so that someday my children will open and read them and think maybe the old man had a fastball for awhile there.” 

In Utterances of an Overcrowded Mind, Paul Dorset says that 97% of writers don’t finish their book. I’m in the 3% who have finished one, but little good that did since I placed it in a closet and forgot about it long ago. But that’s not the one demanding my attention right now anyway. It’s the memoirs I want my children to read. 


What about you?  How are you expending your writing energy, and do you also feel the need to redirect your focus? Is blogging your chief venue, or do you have other WIP that need attention like some of us?  





Monday, October 15, 2012

Preaching to the Choir


You’ve heard it said that any writer worth his weight in gold should avoid clichés like the plague. I hope I’m not preaching to the choir here but, if I am, at least we’re on the same page.


If I had a penny for every cliché I’ve read or used I’d be filthy rich. So would William Metz, who once said, “What’s a young writer to do? Perhaps he can’t recognize the clichés because they are so much a part of his daily language. He is, to be sure, between the devil and the deep blue sea… he must learn to nip in the bud the trite phrase, the overused word.”  

The funniest article I’ve read on the subject is Richard Bang’s “Avoid Clichés like the Plague,” where he confesses to being guilty as sin of having committed the worst literary crimes known to man when he authored travel brochures and used such phrases as “come to know the exotic flora, fauna, and people…” He even called the Blue Nile “The Mount Everest of Rivers.”

OMG, that article just cracked me up!  His advice is this: “If you absolutely can’t resist writing ‘lush’ before ‘forest,’ or ‘hearty’ before ‘breakfast,’ or ‘cascading’ before ‘waterfall,’ keep practicing until you can resist.”

On passé sayings… does anybody remember being up the creek without a paddle…that today is the first day of the rest of your life…that it takes one to know one…that if you build the field they’ll come…that spring is God’s way of saying ‘hello’…

Have you ever known someone whose ass was grass...who fell out of the ugly tree and hit all the branches on the way down…whose dog didn’t hunt…who made like a banana and split… who wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed (or pencil in the box)? 


On to current lingo… it is what it is…at the end of the day… shoot for the moon; even if you miss you’ll be among the stars…an aha moment…a light bulb moment…too much on my plate… on steroids… my bad…do what you love and the money will follow…the only constant is change…speak of the devil…

Today I’m totally happy to announce a free-for-all cliché day. In the comments leave your favorites, old or new.  While. You. Have. The. Chance. - btw, memes and idioms are fair game too. Whatever. And have more fun than a barrel of monkeys!   

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ostracized


Today my students and I are writing on the word ‘ostracize.’ I’ll go first.

I’ve always had a heart for the outcasts, the underdogs, the ugly ducklings. When I was growing up there was a boy in our church named Harold, a loner who was tall and lanky as Ichabod Crane. His face was so pockmarked that the other kids said it had more holes than a golf course.

One day I saw him sitting at the end of a pew all by himself and wondered if I should go sit beside him… but I didn’t really want to go that far, I mean, what would people think?

So I came up with another plan to inform him that someone knew he existed. I pulled a stick of Spearmint Gum from my prized pack, marched straight down the aisle to where he sat, and held it out to him. How embarrassing when he shook his head ‘no,’ he didn’t want it.  


Fast forward 10 years to the school pariah at ENCSD where I taught P.E. Cassie was so obese that all the other children made fun of her. She waddled when she walked and was clumsy and inept at sports and most everything else she attempted. 

No one gave her the time of day. Whenever we played competitive games like kick ball or held relay races, none of the team captains chose her. She was left standing alone while all the others stood together on their individual teams, gearing up for the fun.   

And so I made Cassie my official pet and assigned her the role of captain so she’d get to choose team members instead of being automatically swept to the sideline. When we lined up to go back inside the building I placed her in front of the others and said, “Follow Cassie, the leader.”

This psychology actually works. Children are not oblivious to the treatment others receive, and they tend to follow suit when another is well esteemed. When they were with me on the playground the other kids began showing respect for Cassie, and eventually stopped poking fun and ridiculing her altogether.

***

Then there was the Christian blog group that ostracized me because, apparently, only pontificating was tolerable, and if you didn’t preach to the choir they didn’t want you. Their motto seemed to be, “You tell me what I know and I’ll tell you what you know.”     


When have you encountered ostracism?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Of Hobbit Holes and Cafés


It’s a dangerous business going out your front door.  
~ J.R.R. Tolkien

I wonder if J.K. Rowling read Natalie Goldberg’s advice on writing back in the day. It’s a possibility, given the fact that she wrote the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on napkins in Nicholson’s café – now called Black Medicine Coffee Shop.  Just imagine how renowned the place has become after Rowling put them on the map, gregarious folk flocking there to sip their magic potion while leaning over paper and pen. 

Goldberg urges her readers to sit in a café with handy-dandy notebook and give their hands free reign.  She suggests meeting with a friend for a “writing date” - a concept contrary to the stereotype of the lonely, anguished writer. 

My friend Katie tried her hand at writing in public places for awhile. Every day she’d go to McDonald’s for coffee and her morning pages.  She has enough poems from that stint to publish a collection called Breakfast at McDonald’s. Here’s one. 


Every Morning, Angela

cases the room at McDonald’s,
makes trips to the counter
for a napkin, more coffee, more sugar.

Her eyes check to see if any eyes
will meet hers. If any will allow her
to join them for breakfast,
will succumb to her customary ploy,
“I need a friend.”

Some face that gargoyle face, allow
her to eat with them, then later complain
of their conflict – having their space invaded,
their pity for her, their guilt
at the thought of refusing…

What would Jesus do? they wonder.

One who would not bow to Angela’s craft
said simply, “Even Jesus needed a place apart,”
excusing the stone in her own heart. 

Can you concentrate on writing in a crowded space?  I’ve tried and it doesn’t work for me. I get too distracted by Angelas.  I need a lonely place apart.  Like Bilbo Baggins I’m a creature of habit who doesn’t like to be disturbed. No racket or fuss in solitude.  

What about you? Have you taken Natalie’s advice and ventured out of your hobbit hole to capture adventure? Do you go about with a journalist’s eye, looking for detail outside your imagination?  Me, I’ll take the vicarious adventure any old day.   


Where is your ideal spot to write?  Does your best writing require privacy?
Or do you cheerfully come out of your hobbit hole every now and then? 




Linking with Seedlings in Stone


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

House of Dreams


Some things have to be believed to be seen.   
 ~ Madeleine L’Engle

Madeleine’s advice is worthwhile.  “It might be a good idea if, like the White Queen, we practiced believing six impossible things every morning before breakfast, for we are called upon to believe, what to many people, is impossible. Instead of rejoicing in this glorious ‘impossible’ which gives meaning and dignity to our lives, we try to domesticate God, to make his might actions comprehensible to our finite minds."


When I was growing up my parents took a strange child into our home, a boy with round blue eyes of wonder and blond curls soft as lily petals. One whose vocabulary did not contain the word ‘impossible.’

First of all, he’d flown 3,000 miles all by himself from Riverside California to Fremont North Carolina. Had left the city and brown smog to come live with  us on a farm with tall stalks of corn, green pastures stretching toward the horizon, pigs you can pet, wild huckleberries for the grabbing, haystacks to rest upon and, best of all, a red tractor.

And what boy doesn’t dream of riding a big red tractor every day with his “Grandpa.” That was his first dream come true, living on Green Acres. Imagine that reality coming to life for a child.   

When he turned five my parents enrolled him in school. That’s when we discovered that he had a little shadow that went in and out with him. We saw tell-tale signs of a hard-knock life from days gone by. Bed wetting became the norm.

One day the principal called my mother in for a conference. “The boy seems to have emotional problems,” he said. “He has a foul mouth.” News to us.

After delving into the matter at home my parents soon discovered abandonment issues. We learned that his mother had left him in the dark car while she worked in an after-hours nightclub (shade city). Of course he was emotionally disturbed…all those endless evenings left alone. And if someone tried to steal him, well…

Then one day his mother showed up at our home to cart Simeon away. I’ll never forget that scene. The boy clinging to my dad for dear life, sobbing his eyes out. Both my parents weeping, loud wails filling the kitchen. Sim’s mom dragging him away by force, the child who’d lived with us for the past couple of years. 

Months passed. Then one day the mail man, Buck, delivered a letter scribbled in orange pencil – clearly a child’s handwriting – addressed to:

            Grandpa
            Fremont NC

That’s it. No first name, no rural route, no zip code, no return address, just, “Grandpa, Fremont, NC.” We sat and wondered how a letter from one side of the country clear to the other could have possibly been delivered without the pertinent information. Miracle?  I’d like to think so.

Ever since then, I’ve taken Madeleine L’Engle’s advice to heart in naming six impossible things before my feel hit the hardwood floor every day. If you haven’t done so, try it. Impossible dreams don’t just have to be personal. I dream on behalf of others as well as myself.


What impossible dreams might you have?  Be bold! 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

After the Storm


At midnight trees grow wild.  Lights flicker and you close our eyes to darkness. By morning your skin is beaded like dew on the lawn; by noon it’s slicker than butter.

Still you crave those magic beans that wake the dead and make the blood flow smoother. These addictions, how hard they die! Funny, but you don’t feel that blessed to be alive.


Imagine making do with cowboy brew all the days of your life. Things could come to that… firing up the grill daily just for a cup of coffee. 

You know you should be counting your blessings. But the flooding, the sweltering heat with no sign of relief, breeding ground for mosquitoes and disease…

Gratitude gives way to post-apocalyptic musings.

Chickadees, oblivious to power outages, flock gleefully around the feeder; these no more territorial than you keeping watch over the priceless stash of ice in the cooler.

A relentless knock at the door. It’s your brother with the heart condition and your failing mother staring back with hopeful eyes. They’ve come to you seeking air and ice…

In the living room – the coolest spot in the house at 85 degrees – the light of day cannot be seen. Folded blinds, opaque drapes see to that. You sit in semidarkness and commiserate.

Think of those less fortunate: your cousin swept away by the storm last night.  And others who didn’t survive.  You just thank the Lord you’re still alive to suffer and agonize together.
  
***

After Floyd, we were out of power for a week. Many lost their homes, their farms, their lives, their loved ones.  The everyday comforts they’d known before eastern NC’s Katrina.

A friend named Barbara, who had her lights restored days before us, was thoughtful enough to remember me when she made her morning coffee.

The carafe full she delivered to my front door seemed like a miracle.

Since that time Barbara has moved to New York. I lost my brother to a mysterious death (not a heart attack), my mother to a massive stroke.  Yes, how blessed I was after the storm.       


What does it mean to you to be blessed?


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