Sunday, September 30, 2012

Photo-A-Day: September

"There's something like a line of gold thread running through a man's words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself." --John Gregory Brown

Oct.15, 1922--Sept. 25, 2012
Words. We speak them. We write them. Sometimes we weave them like gold threads, and the resulting cloth is a very special thing. This happened at my father's funeral a few days ago.

His death was not unexpected, but a blow none-the-less. Tears mixed with all those things a family must attend to--packing for the trip, gathering photos for a memorial dvd, funeral arrangements themselves, calls and contacts, sorting through necessary forms, sleepless nights.

But then threads emerged. Offers to help. Food trays. Flowers. A hairdresser who wouldn't take payment for doing my  mom's hair. Reunions. Reconciliations. Hugs. Kindnesses. Comforts. Oh, and words.

People began to speak of my dad. Words of memories. Words of respect. Words of love. He endured tough times and the past few years were especially difficult. But those days are now in the past and what threads did people remember most? That he loved his family. That he and his faithful wife were married 66 years. That he could light up on even the worst days at the mention of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And that he warmly accepted those woven into the family by marriages of their own. Truly a cloth that felt like love itself.

Golden threads seemed to run through September's photo-a-day challenge as well, images of beauty, comfort, and specialness as this daughter kept her camera close once again for another month. Along the way she cherished good memories and held close to her heart words her father once spoke to her.

Here's a peek then at September's gallery...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Expression, Expressiveness, and Good Writing Habits

"Expressiveness is the goal. Expression is what we use to get there." --Arthur Plotnik

I've come across another "favorite" book on writing to add to my list: Arthur Plotnik's The Elements of Expression, Putting Thoughts into Words. Are you familiar with it?

From Goodreads: "Whether the subject is love, mortality, or anything in between,putting your thoughts into words that demand attention isn't as easy as pouring water into a pitcher. That's where this book comes in. Written with humor and wit, it offers many engaging examples of adventuresome language that not only get you noticed, but also communicate a wide range of feelings, thoughts, meanings, and experiences vividly and forcefully."

So far I've only progressed through the first five chapters but already I'm hooked. A sample:

"Anyone who has seen Pygmalion or My Fair Lady knows how quickly expressiveness can flower when love and a wager come into play: On a bet, Professor Henry Higgins tutors a Cockney loudmouth named Eliza Doolittle in Snob Speech 101, and Eliza achieves enough courtly elegance to pass muster at a ball. If we ask no more than that of expressiveness, then the Higgins Method will suffice.

"Of course we do ask more, if we hope to engage distracted listeners and readers. And while small steps toward expressiveness yield quick rewards, the quick fix for mush-mouthed language doesn't exist...Instead the fix involves a number of long-term commitments worth keeping in mind:

Read--Listen--Savor--Keep a Journal.

"These are the acts to which expressive people must commit themselves. And if the word commit smacks of twelve-step recovery, think of these acts as acquired habits of highly expressive people."

Ah, long-term commitments. But with an eye toward more vivid, meaningful expressiveness? Worth it. And although the past week was a busy one over this way, I happily discovered upon reflection that I had  been able to continue fostering some of these habits. A short synopsis:

1. Read. Books I enjoyed included Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly (great reading for those interested in all things Civil War), A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (how did I miss this gem when Burnett's The Secret Garden is such a favorite classic on my shelf?! Sweet and endearing, a must-read), and the first few chapters of Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts (which is proving to be a beautiful read).

2. Listen. Quite a few opportunities to "listen" presented themselves, including a college reunion around a chilly night's campfire (had a great time, Paula!), an Amish auction benefiting a county home, and a bit of time spent in a Greyhound bus station.

3. Savor. I love how Plotnik describes this: "When a delicious piece of expression comes their way, whether by written or spoken word, expressive people do not simply wolf it down. They chew on it to savor its essence, and thus make it theirs."

An example from my readings this week worthy of savoring includes this: "The English language has a million words, but only one for the two kinds of forgiveness. This is a major failure. The two kinds may be similar at the molecular level but they are far removed in magnitude. Like a candle flame and a volcano, an April shower and a hurricane, a soft tremor beneath your feet and the great San Francisco earthquake..." (Thomas Lake, 'The Boy They Couldn't Kill,' Sports Illustrated, Sept. 17, 2012.) Lake's story, which I recommend reading if you get the chance, is a powerful story of a horrendous tragedy, a grandmother's love, courage and determination--and forgiveness--and speaks for itself. But at the same time the writing is amazing, too.

4. Keep a Journal. I journaled about some of the events of the week. I wrote haiku. I made notes of phrases that struck me, bits of conversation that intrigued me, stories that others related. If we writers accomplish only one thing each day, it would be to journal our thoughts, impressions, and ideas--and with that foster the writing habit and keep the writing wheels oiled.

It turns out that a busy week yielded up valuable writing material--simply because of a commitment to think as a writer as I went. Thank you, Mr. Plotnik.

And that's only part of the book's premise. "Read, listen, savor, keep a journal--these are ongoing habits of expressive people," Mr. Plotnik writes. "The next five apply during acts of expression."

Oooh, there's so much more ahead in this book. I'll keep on reading, digesting, and (hopefully) applying. How about you? What writing book has impacted your writing, writing habits, expression and expressiveness? Are you able to read, listen, savor and journal consistently most of the time, or not?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Kindness Project

Kindness. Something the world needs more of, that's for sure. Elana Johnson, YA author of the Possession series, along with others spread the word today around the blogosphere about the Kindness Project--a linked theme in which the question is asked: "How do you practice kindness?" There are many definitions, I suppose, but to me kindness means sharing a touch of beauty:


a kind word                                                                                                                          compassion
          a smile                                                                                                                        hospitality
               a card                                                                                                               a hug
                    a call                                                                                                       a moment
                         a helping hand                                                                               unhurriedness
                              an encouragement                                                               an "I'm sorry"
                                   a compliment                                                            eye contact
                                        homemade cookies                                         friendship
                                             a story                                                  laughter
                                                  a flower                                      respect
                                                       a positive                          chocolate
                                                           a blessing                 prayer
                                                                a caring          patience
                                                                     a softened heart

Often we talk about those random acts of kindness that come our way. What about the intentional ones? How do you practice kindness?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Madeleine L'Engle's Secret Weapon

"One of the greatest weapons of all is laughter, a gift for fun, a sense of play which is sadly missing from the grownup world. When one of our children got isolated by a fit of sulks, my husband would say very seriously, 'Look at me. Now, don't laugh. Whatever you do, don't laugh.' Nobody could manage to stay long-faced for very long, and communication was reestablished. When Hugh and I are out of sorts with each other, it is always laughter that breaks through the anger and withdrawal. Paradox again: to take ourselves seriously enough to take ourselves lightly." --Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet

Smile. You never know who's watching!