Monday, December 22, 2014

Stairs and Thoughts and Other Things

art courtesy of
Halfway Down

                                                            Halfway down the stairs
                                                            Is a stair
                                                            Where I sit.
                                                            There isn't any
                                                            Other stair
                                                            Quite like
                                                            I'm not at the bottom,
                                                            I'm not at the top;
                                                            So this is the stair
                                                            I always

                                                            Halfway up the stairs
                                                            Isn't up,
                                                            And it isn't down.
                                                            It isn't in the nursery,
                                                            It isn't in the town.
                                                            And all sorts of funny thoughts
                                                            Run round my head:
                                                            "It isn't really
                                                            It's somewhere else
                                                            Instead!" --A.A. Milne

My thoughts have turned to the stairs lately. I don't know if it's because this time of year tends to wax nostalgic or what. Memories take me to childhood traditions, family experiences, life changes and life blessings. Staircases can do that, I guess, since they play a key part in some of those memories. The curving staircase of my great-aunt's farmhouse where we had family reunions. The staircase of my youth at the bottom of which I'd sit and talk on the telephone as a teenager. The staircase even years before that at the top of which, when I was three years old, I attempted to throw a telephone book down--and bumped all the way down myself along with it. The staircase that has carried my children's footsteps up and down and now my grandkids pattering feet as well.

The steps to the upstairs of our house have seen many feet. Big feet, little feet. Old feet, young feet. Happy feet, stomping feet. Ours is an aged country house (though the country around it now isn't so much country anymore), built in 1935. Steep and narrow, the steps ascend at the back of the house behind the kitchen. Awkward placement, it would seem, but that's how old Mr. Meyer built it for his bride-to-be all those years ago. I know this because of the day when I was a young mother and a strange car pulled into the driveway. Out emerged an elderly man accompanied by a younger driver. In the backseat were two women, their respective wives it turned out. Upon answering the knock at the back door, I heard the younger man say, "I have someone here you might like to meet." At which the elderly gentleman said, "I am Leo Meyer, and I built this house."

What a treasure. Questions about my house that I'd pondered could be posed and answered. Hands that dug the basement, erected the walls--and fashioned the steps--gestured over things that had changed, things that remained the same. The sweet wife, now wizened but once a beaming bride, who toured what was once her home and who whispered, "If you find any money, it's mine."

A few years later, I learned that we were only the fifth owners of this house--and the two families that followed the Meyers before we came along each had a set of twins. Twins, in this house, times two! One couple with twin girls. The other with a girl and a boy. Imagine the antics up and down the steps in those years. Then came the couple that sold the house to us. The years march by just like the many times feet have marched up and down the stairs.

And I wonder, did any of the children in those years sit in the middle of the stairs and just 'be'--listening and imagining and pretending? How did the stairs help form their view of life and give them a boost up to their futures? Roald Dahl once commented, "I do have a blurred memory of sitting on the stairs and trying over and over again to tie one of my shoelaces..." What are the memories of the children who traipsed these stairs?

What are the memories of children who've traveled your stairs? What are your memories of stairs? And aren't words like steps--links to places, connections from past to present and future, a starting place and a help to a destination? Steps--and words--support, launch, propel, nurture, serve and lift. And on occasion give our imaginations a place to pause and be reignited.

Here's to that special stair that can do all those things!

May your holiday celebrations be blessed this year with much joy and peace--and with those quiet moments that help you reflect and recharge. Happy wishes to all.

Friday, December 5, 2014

For the Writer's Survival Kit: Humor, Along With 10 Quotes

photo courtesy pixabay
"From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere." --Dr. Seuss

Times, they are a-gettin' busy. Speeding up, with more and more details needing attention. It's time, I'm thinking, for a little humor. Never hurts to slow the pace for a minute and, well, laugh. Or chuckle. Or simply smile. After all, wisdom says "A cheerful heart is good medicine" (Proverbs 17:22).

With that in mind, I share with you the following, in the hopes that it will at least bring a smile to your face as you embark on what might be a busy month for you, too.

1. "Someone asked me, if I were stranded on a desert island what book would I bring...'How to Build a Boat.' " --Steven Wright

2. "I was reading a book, 'The History of Glue'. I couldn't put it down." --Tim Vine

3. "The telephone book is full of facts, but it doesn't contain a single idea." --Mortimer Adler

4. "From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put." --Winston Churchill

5. "If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers." --Doug Larson

6. "Listen up, Internet: there is no 'h' in 'wacky.' Got that? THERE IS NO 'H' IN WACKY.' Thank you." --Dave Barry

7. "Practically everybody in New York has half a mind to write a book, and does." --Groucho Marx

8. "Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good." --Dr. Samuel Johnson, to an aspiring writer

9. "Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time." --Steven Wright

10. "How old would be if you didn't know how old you were?" --Satchel Paige

Yes, I believe what Mark Twain said: "Humor is mankind's greatest blessing."

And this, from Bob Hope: "I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful."

In our household, when my husband faced retirement after nearly 35 years of teaching, I only had one thing to say: "As long as you keep me laughing, we'll be okay."

He has and we are. After all, from there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.

Is humor important to you, too? Any humorous lines you care to share?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Seeds, Harvest, and a Writer's Thanks

photo courtesy of pixabay
"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant." --Robert Louis Stevenson

Thanksgiving. A day to slow down (even though the to-do list to get the traditional spread on the table can become hectic!) and reflect. A day to consider, acknowledge, and count--count all those blessings that grace our families and our lives. I paused for a few minutes the other day to do just that. It necessitated a period of intentionally stopping, quieting, and taking some deep breaths. After all, that to-do list wasn't going to get done on its own.

But something happened when I got quiet. Yes, I recorded many things I'm thankful for, including my husband and our over-40 years of marriage, my children/their wonderful mates/the precious grandchildren, our home and freedoms and health and all the beauty that can be seen no matter the season of the year. I noted things like the wind through pine trees, grapefruit, ocean walks, sled rides and chapped cheeks, Mom's quilts and warm socks. I added 'time' to the list--time to write, time to learn, time to change and grow, time to meet challenges with more courage than less. So many things, so many directions. In fact, the whole process reminded me of Ann Voskamp's inspiring book, One Thousand Gifts--a book worth pulling off the shelf and rereading.

But the exercise brought me to an interesting point. I found myself remembering some of the people in my life who were influential in helping me get where I am--people who planted seeds, if you will, and who also would probably be surprised to learn they had been included on such list. In no particular order I thought of:

1. Mrs. Stahl who ignited the spark for journalism in high school.
2. Mrs. Moore who taught an elementary child the importance of discipline and kindness.
3. Mr. Walter who, unbeknownst to him, opened up a world of history to a receptive teen--and fired up the desire to bring characters to life through his portrayal of Matthew Brady of Civil War photography fame.
4. Mrs. Bennett who helped an introverted sophomore gain a bit of confidence in public speaking through soft-spoken compliments. 
5. Mrs. Gossett who gave an eight-year old child insight into faith and hope through her weekly neighborhood Bible story times for the children.

These were not the only influential people in my life, but they were the ones that came to mind first. They were happy to plant seeds though they wouldn't necessarily see the harvest. And am I ever grateful for the seeds they planted!

What people 'planted seeds' in your life that you are thankful for?

Happy Thanksgiving to all who stop by!

Friday, November 14, 2014

On Footprints, Life's Passion, and Centenarians

fall walk 2013 archives
"You can't leave a footprint that lasts if you're always walking on tiptoe." --Marion Blakely

Footprints. The idea was reinforced when I came across the following report in a recent issue of World Magazine (11/15/14): "There's one thing Madeline Scotto didn't wish for on her 100th birthday: retirement. Despite becoming a centenarian on October 16, the 100-year-old Brooklyn woman still works as a teacher at the St. Ephrem School where she prepares middle-school students for math competitions When asked about retiring after six decades at St. Ephrem, Scotto told WPIX: 'Oh, that's a bad word. I don't ever want to hear that word." Her commute is easy enough: just a walk across the street. 'Some people like what they're doing, but I  have a passion for what I'm doing,' she said. 'And when you have a passion for something, you never give up.'"

Madeline Scotto
photo courtesy Daily Mail
Isn't she darling? Imagine the footprints this little lady has left. Simply because she never shook loose of her passion--passion for children, for teaching, for living. At 100 years old!

Synonyms for passion? With varying degrees of meaning: enthusiasm, love for, coming alive, joie de vivre. No two days will necessarily give a full measure of these gifts, but--if we can look at Miss Madeline's life--we might say she experienced a fuller measure than some.

Others who have weighed in on the subject:

"Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for." --Ray Bradbury

"Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing. do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." --Howard Thurman

"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious." --Albert Einstein

Thank you, Miss Madeline, for your example. For being an inspiration. For leaving footprints to emulate and follow--no matter our age. I just love examples like this!

How about you--any stories of those who have inspired you to reach higher, to live with more joy?

p.s. want ideas of incorporating joie de vivre in your life? Check out "How to Capture Joie De Vivre" here.

Friday, November 7, 2014

John Gardner on The Very Life of Fiction

neighbor's yard November 2014
"Character is the very life of fiction. Setting exists so that the character has someplace to stand, something that can help define him, something he can pick up and throw, if necessary, or eat, or give to his girlfriend. Plot exists so the character can discover for himself (and in the process reveal to the reader) what he, the character, is really like: plot forces the character to choice and action, transforms him from a static construct to a lifelike human being making choices and paying for them or reaping the rewards. And theme exists only to make the character stand up and be somebody: theme is elevated critical language for what the character's main problem is." --John Gardner

Character is fiction's life. Setting, plot and theme support, fill in the gaps, add brushstrokes to the canvas. But character breathes. I share this quote so that I, for one, won't lose track of it. It's a keeper!

Enjoy this beautiful fall weekend, everyone.

Friday, October 31, 2014

On Listening, Inspired by an Anagram

October 2014
"The word listen contains the same letters as the word silent." --Alfred Brendel

Listen and silent. Two different words with the same letters, rearranged. An example of an anagram (anagram (n): "a word, phrase or sentence formed from another by rearranging its letters") but more unique than most. Most anagrams are somewhat silly--word play, word games, word puzzles--but in this case one that goes a little deeper. As in, what does it take to really listen? And why are good listening skills important?

I saw the above quote on a church sign. Looking for information on where the quote came from, I came across an interesting article on Deb Sofield's blog: Listen and Silent are Spelled with the Same Letters--Coincidence? in which she uses Brendel's quote to illustrate the art of listening. Seemed insightful to me--thought I'd share some highlights.

"It hit me," Deb writes, "that listen and silent are an anagram, they have the same letters, but creating different words, and what is interesting is that these two words, in my opinion, have the same value when it comes to their true meaning...(and) the power of listening is probably one of the most underrated skills we learn as kids. Everyone wants to talk and be heard, but it seems to me that so few know how to be silent and listen."

She continues with three reasons why we need to work on being better listeners:

1. People need to know that their words matter.
2. People need to know that you listen and you hear them.
3. Perhaps the hardest part of listening is to do so without judgement.

Timely reminders for me, all because of a chance glance at an anagram! Now how can I improve my listening skills in personal relationships? And might the principles also apply to getting to know these characters I'm wrestling with in my story? At the same time, might my character need someone to listen to her? Now there's a thought. Hmmmm...

What words of wisdom have you chanced upon lately? Do you have a favorite anagram?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ocean Advice and a Thousand Words

Ft. Walton Beach, FL October 2014
Ocean Advice

Let your cares drift away.
Seas every opportunity.
Adapt to changing tides.
Surf life's rough waves.
Harbor strength and perseverance.
Don't be a shellfish.
Bet on a shore thing.

We were fortunate to take a short trip to the beach this past week and, wow, what a gift. Some of my favorite pictures include:

"Let your cares drift away...
...seas every opportunity...   
...adapt to changing tides... life's rough waves...
...harbor strength and perseverance...
...don't be a shellfish... on a shore thing."
Thanks to Valerie and her pinterest board for the poem :-)                                          

And speaking of gifts, the best one was to drive up for the weekend from the beach to son and family's house in sweet Alabama to see, for the first time, our newest grandbaby, sweet little Joy.

Drinking it all in, savoring, storing it up for the winter months ahead. When it's the coldest here, I'll be imagining those long walks along the water's edge. Like they say, "A walk on the beach is worth a thousand words." Hopefully this latest seaside "retreat" will stir an actual thousand words, and more, in writing projects in the weeks ahead.

Where do you like to go for a retreat--writing or otherwise?