Friday, March 16, 2018

On Return of Books Lent to Friends and Other Special Books

inscription in a favored book on the bookshelf
"On the Return of a Book Lent to A Friend"
I GIVE humble and hearty thanks for the safe return of this book which having endured the perils of my friend's bookcase, and the bookcases of my friend's friends, now returns to me in reasonably good condition.
I GIVE humble and hearty thanks that my friend did not see fit to give this book to his infant as a plaything, nor use it as an ash-tray for his burning cigar, not as a teething-ring for his mastiff.
WHEN I lent this book I deemed it as lost: I was resigned to the bitterness of the long parting: I never thought to look upon its pages again.
BUT NOW that my book is come back to me, I rejoice and am exceeding glad! Bring hither the fatted morocco and let us rebind the volume and set it on the shelf of honour: for this my book was lent, and is returned again.
PRESENTLY, therefore, I may return some of the books that I myself have borrowed." --Christopher Morely, The Haunted Bookshelf

Adah at 16 (1919)
When I came across this Christopher Morley quote, I immediately thought of a book I have on my shelf: The Greatest Story Ever Told, by Fulton Oursler (Doubleday and Co. 1950). This is a cherished book to me not only because of the story it tells but of personal family history related to its specific volume. For, in 1951, my grandmother, Adah Johnson, wrote these words in the flyleaf: "This book is mine. I will gladly loan it to anyone who would like to read it. But please return it. It tells the story of the New Testament so simply and yet so beautifully I wish everybody would read it." --A.E.J.  Truly the book was special to Adah, and one that she would have wanted returned to her if she loaned it out. Having been passed down to me, it holds a special spot on my bookshelf as well. 

And Christopher Morley (American journalist, novelist, essayist and poet,1890-1957), what more might he have had to say said about books? I was not familiar with Christopher Morley's works before, and I've never read his book, The Haunted Bookshop (written in 1919). One reviewer described the book as "primarily a novel of suspense, though throughout it Morley proclaims the value of books." Knowing all this now, maybe I should find myself a copy and check it out.

Want more on Morley's thoughts about books? Goodreads includes additional quotes from The Haunted Bookshop, including:

"That's why I call this place the Haunted Bookshop. Haunted by the ghosts of the books I haven't read. Poor uneasy spirits, they walk and walk around me. There's only one way to lay the ghost of a book, and that is to read it."

"Living in a bookshop is like living in a warehouse of explosives. Those shelves are ranked with the most furious combustibles in the world--the brains of men."

"I wish there could be an international peace conference of booksellers, for (you will smile at this) my own conviction is that the future happiness of the world depends in no small measure on them and on the librarians."

"There is no one so grateful as the man to whom you have given just the book his soul needed and he never knew it."

I don't know if my grandmother ever read any of Christopher Morley's works, but I think she would agree with his ideas, especially that of this last quote. What if we did have a cherished book that we would want returned upon loaning it out but, with its loss, held out the hope that it was just what that person's soul needed? Wouldn't it be worth it?

What book/books are on your shelf that you would hate to part with? Do you have any books passed down to you from previous generations that you treasure? Do you have any books you need to return to someone else? (Ha!)

Monday, February 26, 2018

History: Only the Tip of the Iceberg

February 2018
"Most human affairs happen without leaving vestiges or records of any kind behind them. The past, having happened, has perished with only occasional traces. To begin with, although the absolute number of historical writings is staggering, only a small part of what happened in the past was ever observed. And only a part of what was observed in the past was remembered by those who observed it; only a part of what was remembered was recorded; only a part of what was recorded has survived; only a part of what survived has come to the historians' attention; only a part of what has come to their attention is credible; only a part of what is credible has been grasped; and only a part of what has been grasped can be expounded or narrated by the historian." --Louis Gottschalk, Understanding History (NY: Knopf, 1969)

Wow, quite the quote to ponder. I came across these words while reading yet another book on Ohio's history: Ulysses Underground, The Unexplored Roots of U.S. Grant and the Underground Railroad, by G.L. Corum (p. 184). Makes me want to get Gottschalk's book and pick his brain a little more about history. What a perspective--profound and yet so amazingly obvious. Of course no one can record and pass on every detail of their lives, most wouldn't even care to. We never truly plumb the depths of our own family histories let alone the grand sweep of centuries. We only see a tiny tip of the great iceberg. Makes me respect historians even more, knowing what all they have to sift through.

I pass this historical cemetery (pictured above) on my morning walk and have done so for many years now. I often ponder what the lives of some of these people in my neighborhood were like 150 years ago. A stroll among the markers reveals the graves of two Civil War veterans along with a Civil War nurse, a marker listing the names of four children on one stone, and a mysterious little gravestone that simply reads "P.W." The grave for the patriarch for which the cemetery is named, John Henry Willsey (1798-1876) is there, as is that of his grandson, also named John Henry Willsey, who was killed in a robbery on his way home from the market in 1916.  Other markers name infants, toddlers, and teenagers as well as the older generations.

Just a bit of history from this little pocket of the world, a tiny sample of the uncountable stories that could be told in neighborhoods everywhere. A few details passed on, many lost. But enduring threads, though invisible and often nameless, carry on from generation to generation don't they? Threads like courage, perseverance, family, discovery, service, sacrifice. Isn't that ultimately what stories of the past teach us-- and inspire us to pass on as well?

What stories from history--family, neighborhood, or otherwise--do you find yourself passing on to others? What strikes you about Gottschalk's quote that you hadn't thought about before?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

On Focus, Fire, and Friends' Advice

view from morning walk November 2017
"I write essays to clear my mind. I write fiction to open my heart." --Taiye Selasi

When I came across this quote, I said yes! I do believe the words describe my experience of writing, too. I have often said that writing is a personal journey of discovery, of exploration, of finding out what we think, not what someone else tells us. It's a gift given to those of us who take up the challenge. And along the way, we learn what is in our  hearts.

Finding this quote came on the heels of a couple of things. First, although I don't often write essays, I do write devotions and recently was notified that one of my writings has been accepted for inclusion in an anthology edited by Susan King, associate editor of Upper Room Magazine, tentatively titled Short and Sweet III. What was exceptional about this submission? The entire piece, except for proper names and some contractions, had to be written with one-syllable words. Talk about a challenge! (More on the book as we get closer to the publication date.)

Secondly, the quote came after a recent meeting with my dear friends and writing critique partners, in which we talked about the upcoming year. "I'm having trouble with focus," I told them. "So many projects, so many thoughts. What do I focus on? Where do I go from here?"

Interestingly, the Dictionary of Word Origins, by John Ayto, says this about focus: "Latin focus meant 'fireplace,' and in post-classical times it came to be used for 'fire' itself--hence French feu, Italian fuoco, Spanish fuego, all meaning 'fire,' and hence too the English derivatives fuel and fusillade. The first writer known to have used it in its modern sense 'point of convergence' was the German astronomer Johannes Kepler, in 1604."

Focus is equated with fire? Wow, that puts a whole new spin on the subject. Ayto continues: "It may have been some metaphorical notion of the 'hearth' symbolizing the 'centre of the home.'"

What does this mean for us in this upcoming year? What might our focus--our fire--be? What will be the center of our writing, and will the kind of writing we choose help clear the mind and/or open the heart?

These are good questions. For me it means revisiting my goals for fiction writing, the possibility of self-publishing a haiku chapbook (any and all advice welcome!), and dipping the toes into more social media. Hmmmm...

Focus. Fire! Friends' advice. As writers, we need them all, and 2018 promises to be a great new year for living them out. How about you? Are you having trouble with focus in your writing? Are you on fire for your work? What kind of writing helps clear your mind and/or opens your heart? And what advice do your writer friends give you that helps you along your way?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Knitted Personalities and a Word or Two

December 2017 knitting  projects
"Knitting is very conducive to thought. It is nice to knit a while, put down the needles, 
write a while, then take up the sock again." --Dorothy Day

"...then take up the sock..." or the bear, three colorful mice, a mermaid, lizard or ball depending on the project at hand!

The end of 2017 for us not only saw special holiday opportunities with family and friends but also a couple of grandkid December birthdays. And so the knitting needles were maybe busier than the keyboard, but that was okay. The fun of starting with two pointed sticks and a skein of color and watching a personality unfold brought personal enjoyment coupled with the anticipation of the joy for the receiver. Who has more fun, the knitter or the giftee?

And, just yesterday, almost three weeks into a new year, we learned that two of those personalities finally arrived at their destination. Miss Cranberry Bear and Mr. Stripey Lizard made it all the way to a three-year old and a seven-year old in Spain, after being enroute about ten days. If the toys could talk, what stories might they tell of their adventures crossing the ocean? Just the thought of it--whimsical little companions traveling the world--stirs a storyteller's imagination. "A knitter only appears to be knitting yarn," says Dr. SunWolf. "Also being knitted are winks, mischief, sighs, fragrant possibilities, wild dreams." 

Sounds like a description of a writer, too :-)

Knitting is not for everyone, of course. And thankfully there are multiples of creative activities to choose from. The varieties are endless. What about you? Do you enjoy a craft that encourages possibilities and wild dreams in your writing? Maybe painting or coloring or scrapbooking that helps inspire writing thoughts? Journaling, poetry, or the fun of writing prompts? Anything that loosens the flow of words? Is there something new this year you'd like to try?

Here's to a year of having fun with our writing, no matter the form it takes. Who knows what seas we'll travel!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Let the Lyrics Tell the Story

"Silent night, holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight. Glories stream from heaven afar, heavenly hosts sing Alleluia, Christ the Savior is born!"

..second verse of Silent Night (Stille Nacht! Helige Nacht!) written by Fr. Joseph Mohr in 1816; music composed by Franz Gruber, 1818. First played on Christmas Eve, 1818, in St. Nicholas Church, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. Translated into English in 1863 by John Freeman Young.


"Joy to the world! The Lord is come, Let earth receive her king!"
...Joy to the World, written as a lyrical adaptation of Psalm 98 by Isaac Watts in1719.


"O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above the deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by. Yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting light, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."

...O Little Town of Bethlehem, written by Phillips Brooks in 1868 after having spent Christmas in Bethlehem in 1866.


"O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of our dear Savior's birth...Truly he taught us to love one another, His law is love and his gospel is peace."

...O Holy Night (Cantique de Noel) was written by Placide Cappeau in 1847, music composed by Adolphe Adam. Translated from French to English in 1855 by John Dwight, O Holy Night was the first Christmas song ever played live on the radio when Reginald Fessenden, former lab technician for Thomas Edison, transmitted a broadcast from the Brant Rock radio tower in 1906.


"Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o'er the plains, and the mountains in reply, echoing their joyous strain. Gloria, in excelsis Deo! Gloria, in excelsis Deo!" 

...Angels We Have Heard on High, translated from the original French carol in 1862 by Bishop James Chadwick, England.


May the words of the Christmas season be a blessing to all, sowing songs of hope, joy, light, peace, and love in hearts everywhere.

Merry Christmas!
(photo sources: pixabay, google images)

Friday, December 1, 2017

On Family Stories and Heirlooms

Roseville Pottery , "Freesia Blue," circa 1945
"Family stories make the most valuable heirlooms." --source unknown

I remember my first memory of these vases. The image is fixed in my mind. I'm about three years old and my father is holding me in his arms. I'm looking over his shoulder at the mirror over the mantel (this would have been about 1952) and can see my reflection looking back at me. The vases flank the mirror in their place on that mantel. I later learn that they were wedding gifts to my parents in 1946, given by my mom's friend whom we knew as Aunt Reenie. 

How appropriate was Aunt Reenie's choice. The pair of vases is from the Roseville art pottery line "Freesia Blue," and the freesia flower, they say, symbolizes trust and fidelity. And I wonder, did the beautiful gift given at the beginning of a marriage somehow foreshadow how long and enduring that marriage would be--one of over sixty-six years? 

What a sweet heirloom, only lately handed down to me and now occupying a place in my home. And to think the vases were manufactured at the Roseville Pottery Company in Zanesville, Ohio, a few miles east of where my parents lived most of their years together. Ohio, it turns out, produced abundant pottery art (not only Roseville but Rookwood and Weller, too), especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Rich deposits of useful Ohio clay made sure of that.

Oh, the history of heirlooms; the stories they could tell. The writer's imagination begins to shift into overdrive. Will any of our heirlooms find themselves featured in our stories? Will they tweak the imagination of readers like they've stirred our own? Will we tell their stories and thus keep the specialness of them alive?

And just how do we keep their stories alive? Links with ideas that might help include:

Which brings one to maybe a more difficult question: what do we do with these special pieces that come to us when we have little room for them, or maybe even little interest. Those items that tug at our hearts but don't necessarily tug at the hearts of those who follow us. As it turns out, there is quite a discussion about this very thing. A sample of some titles:

What special heirlooms do you treasure? What might be their history? Have any of them found their way into your writing--or hold honored spots in your home? How do you pass along their stories? Have you ever struggled over having to give up or pass on a family heirloom?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

On Good Writing, Good Reading, and Gratitude

November sunset 2017
“Oh what marvels fill me with thanksgiving! The deep mahogany of a leaf once green. The feathered fronds of tiny icicles coating every twig and branch in a wintry landscape. The feel of goosebumps thawing after endured frozen temperatures. Both hands clamped around a hot mug of herbal tea. The aromatic whiff of mint under my nose. The stir of emotion from a child's cry for mommy...The milky luster of a single pearl. Rainbows reflecting off iridescence bubbles. Awe-struck silence evoked by any form of beauty..."  --Richelle E. Goodrich, Slaying Dragons (GoodReads)

"Oh, what marvels fill me with thanksgiving..." A recent November sunset (above) was one such marvel for me. And almost always on morning walks some previously unobserved detail will pop, even on the most dreary of days. If only I could train myself to be more observant, I would see more marvelous things!

Writers have their own ingatherings that spur a sense of thanksgiving. Ann Lamott, for example, writes about her gratitude for good writing: "...for some of us, books are as important as anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid pieces of paper unfolds world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet you or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of the things that you don't get in life...wonderful, lyrical language, for instance. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded. I'm grateful for it the way I'm grateful for the ocean."

A commenter at a past BookRiot post, "10 Literary Quotes for Thanksgiving" (here) gave an interesting list of what he was grateful for as a reader, including:
...finishing a book just as the train pulls into the station
...seeing someone reading a favorite book in public
...a good beginning
...a better ending
...a mysterious, wistful inscription in a used book
...a bustling bookstore in full holiday swing
...acknowledgements that are honest, funny and humble
...picking up a classic you've been avoiding and loving it

Yet, as writers, what about those times when the writing is hard, the words won't come, and we're ready to give it all up? Annie Neugebauer at WriterUnboxed addresses this issue in her article "Getting Back to Grateful" She writes, "If there's one universal truth about all types of writing and all types of writers, it's probably that this is hard. Writing is difficult...It's also wonderful." But when it's not wonderful, when it's more like "heavy sludge" as Ms. Neugebauer describes it, how do we get back to the feeling of wonderful? Her antidote: gratitude.

"You don't have to buy things or fix things or rearrange," she writes. "You don't have to take a hiatus. You don't have to go to switch genres or go back to school. You don't have to change a single thing you're doing; you only have to change the way you look at them. How? Gratitude." She continues by making the point that science supports the idea ("Gratitude changes your mindset, your sense of contentment, your mental and physical health."); that a 'gratitude depository' (she calls hers a Joy Jar) is a nifty tool; and concludes by listing the many things a writer has to be thankful for. It's a great read.

Finally, from A.A. Milne:

"Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude." 

Beauty and marvels abound. Books and good words abound. Blessings around our Thanksgiving tables abound. May we give ourselves space to recognize them and, fashioned a bit like Piglet, enlarge our hearts to gather in more of a thing called gratitude. Happy Thanksgiving!