Monday, December 31, 2018

On Laughter, Pick-Up-Sticks, and New Years Resolutions

December 2018
"Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face." --Victor Hugo

We had a good laugh following Christmas festivities this past week, one sparked by a gift given the children--a box full of games including this vintage one, Pick-Up-Sticks. And the laughter that rang out around the game table was a great pick-me-up in itself, let me tell you. The proclaimed winner was truly dexterous. It was even stated that maybe he had missed his calling--he would have made a great  neurosurgeon!  In reflecting back on the game, and the people around the table, I've tapped the activity as one of my cherished memories of the day.

Laugher--often spontaneous, most likely contagious, and in a lot of ways healing. In the echoes of laughter one often forgets the weightier issues of the day, exchanging them for lighter moments, lifted spirits, and just flat-out fun. We ought to laugh more often.

Thus it is that I set my only resolution for this year: I will open my heart to more laughter. Yes, I will have goals--writing goals, personal goals, goals to help me grow. But resolutions? How many of those do we really follow through on? This is one resolution that is attainable. 

So in the spirit of laughter and its value, I share some of my favorite quotes on the subject (and similar topics):

--- "Earth laughs in flowers." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

--- "As soap is to the body, so laughter is to the soul." --Jewish Proverb

--- "He who laughs, lasts!" --Mary Pettibone Poole 

--- "Humor is the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life." --former Senator Al Simpson

--- "Joy is the best make-up." --Anne Lamott

--- "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." --Proverbs 17:22

--- "It is bad to suppress laughter. It goes back down and spreads to your hips." --Fred Allen

--- "A good laugh heals a lot of hurts." --Madeleine L'Engle

And speaking of Madeleine L'Engle, I appreciate this story that she tells in her book, A Circle of Quiet, The Crosswicks Journal, Book One: "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."

Do you make resolutions or set goals, or both? How important is laughter to you and your family? Do you have a favorite quote on laughter? What is your favorite table game?

Wishing all who might drop in here a happy new year, with all the pick-me-ups that a good dose of laughter can offer. May laughter visit, lift, and help carry you through any long winter days ahead...

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

On Short Stories, O.Henry's Gift of the Magi, and Writing Gifts

courtesy Wikipedia Commons
"One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies..." --from O.Henry's The Gift of the Magi

This time of year brings to mind an all-time favorite short story, O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi. It's a story that planted itself in the heart years ago and took root while other short stories simply faded away.

Familiar with the tale? Young Della with glorious, cascading hair cannot afford what she would like to give her husband for Christmas: a watch chain befitting his most cherished possession, a fine gold pocket watch that had been handed down from grandfather to father to himself. So what does she do? She visits Madame Sofronia and... (I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't read the story! But I offer a link here at American Literature online if you want to read it for yourself.)

At the same time, without Della's knowing, dear husband Jim ("James Dillingham Young") has himself done the unthinkable in order to purchase the one beautiful thing he knows his wife would be pleased with, which was...

Can you fill in the blank? O. Henry, pen name of William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), was a master of irony and plot twists (hence The O. Henry Award, an annual American award given for an exceptional short story, first presented in 1918). And although The Gift of the Magi was written in 1905 and in the language of the day, the writing is timeless, enduring, and endearing as well. The title of the story is an allusion to the Christmas story of the Magi bearing gifts for the Christ-child (Matthew 2:9-11 NLT).

Gift-giving. Gift receiving. For writers, the writing gift goes two ways. As author Amy Tan has been quoted as saying, "Writing is an extreme privilege but it's also a gift. It's a gift to yourself, and it's a gift of giving a story to someone."

In a recent entry over at Writer Unboxed,Vaughn Roycroft authors the article, "The Gifts of the Writing Life" (found here) and enumerates a list of gifts he believes a writer receives. Among other things, he includes heightening empathy, broadening outlook, stick-to-it-ive-ness and fortitude. In his concluding remarks, he says: "So regardless of our pub status or sales, regardless of whether we made our word count goals or all of our deadlines this year, let's remember the gifts we are receiving simply by way of doing what we love."

I think O. Henry would agree.

On my list of gifts that I believe a writer receives, I would add:
--a sense of exploration and discovery
--an increased awareness of detail and beauty
--challenge offered, challenge accepted, challenge ongoing!
--great friends

Echoing the question that Mr. Roycroft asks in his article: What gifts has the writing life given to you? I think it's important to occasionally review all the reasons we stay the writing course :-)

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate. And happy writing to those who continue to open--and give--the gift of writing.