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?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Historical Fiction: When the Questions Take a Different Track

pioneer cemetery along October morning walk 2014
"Every age has a keyhole to which its eye is pasted." --Mary McCarthy

I kinda' went on a binge my last visit to the library. A historical novel binge.

Here's how it worked. Instead of going through the library doors with a list of book titles or authors that I wanted to check out, I just walked up and down the shelves looking for the words "historical fiction" on the spines of books. I do this occasionally since this is one of my favorite genres to read, has been since I was a teen.

I stopped myself this time at seven books. They included:
The Girls of Gettysburg, Bobbi Miller (Civil War)
Maggie's Door, Patricia Reilly Giff (mid-nineteenth century Ireland)--sequel to Nory Ryan's Song which I read last month
R My Name is Rachel, Patricia Reilly Giff (Great Depression)
Willow Run, Patricia Reilly Giff (WWII America)
Ronnie's War, Bernard Ashley (WWII London)
One Shining Moment, Gilbert Morris (post WWII)
Motherland, Maria Hummel (WWII Germany)

Two observations: I enjoy Patricia Reilly Giff's books (can you tell?) and Hummel's book, Motherland, posed an approach to writing historical fiction that I'd not given thought to before, a position the author herself embraced only after a time of thoughtful searching and story development. This approach came with a shift in the kinds of questions she asked herself.

First of all, from Goodreads: Motherland is inspired by stories from the author's father and his German childhood, and letters between her grandparents that were hidden in an attic wall for fifty years. It is the author's attempt to reckon with the paradox of her father--a product of her grandparents' fiercely protective love and their status as Mitläufer, Germans who "went along" with Nazism, first reaping its benefits and later its consequences.

This page-turning novel focuses on the Kappus family: Frank is a reconstructive surgeon who lost his beloved wife in childbirth and two months later married a young woman who must look after the baby and his two grieving sons when he is drafted into medical military service. Alone in the house, Liesl must attempt to keep the children fed with dwindling food supplies, safe from the constant Allied air attacks, and protected against the swell of desperate refugees flooding their town. When one child begins to mentally unravel, Liesl must discover the source of the boy's infirmity or lose him forever to Hadamar, the infamous hospital for "unfit" children. The novel bears witness to the shame and courage of Third Reich families during the devastating last days of the war, as each family member's fateful choices lead them deeper into questions of complicity and innocence, to the novel's heartbreaking and unforgettable conclusion.

The story is haunting, troubling, and heart-wrenching, centered as it is on a stepmother's devotion to her three stepsons, trying to keep the family together in the absence of her husband during the travesties of war. But here's where it impacted me. In the author's Acknowledgements, she writes: 

             "My father is a good man, who has always expressed clear love and devotion for his parents and his children. My grandparents died when I was young, but they also struck me as generous and kind, and my grandmother, rather courageous for single-handedly raising three small kids at such a harrowing time. When I started working on this book, I obsessed over the idea of complicity, how ‘good’ people could nonetheless participate in one of the most brutal regimes in contemporary history. The questions What did they know and when did they know it? were key to this investigation. How was it possible that my grandfather worked so close to Buchenwald and still insisted he had no knowledge of the crimes committed in that camp? How could my grandmother be such a loving mother to her stepchildren and not teach them what the Germans had done? My father claims he learned abut the Holocaust only as a teenager, at an Frankfurt, half a decade after the war.
            “Hindsight is always a delicate issue in historical novels. The author and the reader often have a distilled set of facts about an era that the characters do not possess. Perhaps no era is more traveled and judged by readers than World War II, and so we collectively assume that all books about Germans in the 1940s will be books about complicity or resistance to their government’s murderous practices. In fact, most books are. The narrative we get is the one we expect.
            “Yet the more I thought about my grandmother’s letters, the more I realized they weren’t about Naziism. Or rather, that Naziism shadowed her world, but it was illuminated by the antics and accidents of three small boys, by conveying through code that she was sending secret supplies to her husband for his imminent desertion. Yes, she was afraid—of denouncement, of the ever-increasing air raids, of enemy invasion. And yet her narrative was not about totalitarian law, the bloody battles, the Jews and the camps. It was about family, and, paradoxically, it was about protecting her new sons’ innocence in a time when the sky was literally falling.
            “The more I wrote, the more I knew I had to change my fundamental questions. I could not use hindsight as a knife to slice through the past and find anything but what I expected to find. Instead of asking, What did they know, and when did they know it? I began to ask, What did they love? What did they fear? And in place of a prefabricated fable, a complicated human story began to emerge..."

A simple shift in questioning. From What did they know and when did they know it? to What did they love, what did they fear?

Here the emphasis is not on trying to explain history but to experience history. Not to examine and dissect reasons and motives but to invest in lives and struggle with them.

We'll never have all the answers but maybe if we start with different questions...?

What questions do you ask when you start a story?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Love Affair: 14 Quotes on Books and Reading

photo courtesy of

Oh, this love affair with books. It will endure for some of us for a long, long time. Never-ending TBR piles, recommendations, classics, favorites. Why are they so special to us?

I decided to explore what others say about books and reading. Some of my discoveries:

1. "If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking." --Haruki Murakami

2. "There are many little ways to enlarge your child's world. Love of books is the best of all." --Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

3. "The books you don't read won't help." --Jim Rohn

4. "There is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and the tired man who wants a book to read." --Gilbert K. Chesterton

5. "It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it." --Oscar Wilde

6. "Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?"-- Henry Ward Beecher

7. "I divide all readers into two classes; those who read to remember and those who read to forget." --William Lyon Phelps

8. "You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend." --Paul Sweeney

9. "A book is a device to ignite the imagination." --Alan Bennett

10. "A good book has no ending." --R.D. Cumming

11. "Books have that strange quality, that being of the frailest and tenderest matter, they outlast brass, iron, and marble." --William Drummond, Bibliotheca Edinburgena Lectori

12. "Modern writers are the moons of literature; they shine with reflected light, with light borrowed from the ancients." --Samuel Johnson

13. "I would rather be a poor man in a garret with plenty of books than a man who did not love reading." --Thomas Babington Macaulay

14. "Novels are sweets." --William Makepeace Thackeray, Roundabout Papers: On a Lazy Idle Boy

And we thought sugar was addictive? Ha!

And now for the big announcement, the winner of my 300th post celebration giveaway...drum roll please....Catherine Winn! Congratulations, Catherine, and thanks for celebrating with me :-)

Have a great rest of the week, everyone.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Reach: 300 Posts Celebration and Giveaway!

"When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won't come up with a handful of mud either." --Leo Burnett

on Badlands Trail, Miami Whitewater Forest
September 2014
I can't believe it. I hit a milestone and almost missed it. This is my 301st blog post.  Recognizing the big 300 almost passed me by.

But it's never too late, right?

Who would have thought when I started this blogging experiment almost five years ago that I would stay the course and still be here today? That's not to say I'm projecting forever. The day may come when the journey takes a fork in the road, energies are diverted in a different direction, but I do know that the reach has already gone further than I ever thought it would. And I don't believe I've come up with a handful of mud either!

The idea has made me consider the idea of reach--and reach's cousins: dream, desire, and risk. A little googling (isn't it amazing the new words that are added to our vocabularies each year that we'd never have considered before?) I came up with the following inspirational thoughts:

"Nothing is impossible. The word itself says 'I'm possible'." --Audrey Hepburn

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." --T.S. Eliot

"Sometimes you just have to jump out the window and grow wings on the way down." --Ray Bradbury

"I haven't failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." --Thomas Edison

"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world." --Harriet Tubman

"You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream." --C.S. Lewis
(my personal favorite :-)

"The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise." --Maya Angelou

'It's impossible,' said pride.
'It's risky,' said experience.
'It's pointless,' said reason.
'Give it a try,' whispered the heart.' --Unknown

"You had the power all along, my dear." --Glinda, the Good Witch, The Wizard of Oz

To celebrate the number 300, we'll do this:

1. Share links of 300-lists. (Considered coming up with my own list of 300-somethings, but reality set in and I nixed that idea--too big a reach right now!) Some lists from others to consider:

300 Things to Do Once in a Lifetime (The Ultimate Bucket List)

2. Sponsor a celebratory give-away! Kicked around different ideas here, too, but settled on this: to one lucky commenter a $30 Amazon gift card will be sent your way! $3 wasn't a big enough celebration. $300 (as in 300 posts) was...ummm...too much of a reach! So 30's a good compromise.

Like previous giveaways here, all you have to do is comment along with a contact email address, and you will be eligible for the drawing. Deadline is this time next week, Tuesday, October 7. (I considered Monday, October 27--since that will be the 300th day of the year!--but that's too long to wait.)

300 posts of fun, of meeting people, of stretching, reaching, learning, engaging. That's what I'm celebrating. Hope you'll celebrate with me.