to the scowling man

Dear Scowling Man-

Today I took my kids to our neighborhood park so they could fly a kite and play on the rusty, um I mean newly painted swings, slides and jagged-metal, edged see-saws. Kids like that sort of thing, so I thought it would be fun.

We had tried to take them to see a Modern Art exhibit, but as I read the tickets more closely on the way over I sadly realized we were two hours early so we had to go back home. Not my finest moment as I was in charge of planning the outing. So since that didn’t work out, I thought I needed plan B to give my little darlings something that they could do in lieu of spending this lovely day cooped up indoors.

So we trekked down to the park and were having a grand time when you and your friend showed up. It’s a big park, but you and your buddy chose the bench we had put our kite bag on and used it to wipe off the pigeon poop. Then you proceeded to study said plastic bag with scientific curiosity. No more kite bag for us.

Okay, no big deal. But that’s not all. You also kept looking at us with a scowl that would, in my home country, make me think you were going to attack us with a machete at any moment. I didn’t see a machete, but who knows, there could have been one tucked under your coat. I wasn’t sure.

Then your friend must have gotten a little sleepy since it was such a lovely day and decided to find another bench so he could take a little nap. I had hoped you’d do the same, but no, you seemed set on making me as uncomfortable as possible by watching me and my kids with that grave scowl the entire time. It was creepy.

Now, there were others in the park and I hadn’t seen a machete yet, so I felt moderately safe. I’m also familiar with this scowl, so I choose to interpret as partial curiosity as opposed to deep-seated hatred–which is typically what a scowl like that communicates, FYI.

So next time you’re taking a break at the park, try to smile a little at people so they don’t think you are threatening their personal safety. Or better yet, ignore them completely and take a nap–you probably need it. But please stop staring at strangers and wearing the I-just-sucked-on-a-lemon face. You’ll feel better about yourself and so will others.

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on encouragement

en·cour·age/enˈkərij/- Give support, confidence, or hope to (someone)

Encouragement. Ladies, we all love to receive it, but how many of us are good at giving it?

Often we talk about encouragement like it’s a special gift that only some people have and the rest of us are off the hook. And I’ll admit I’ve had similar thoughts for a while because my natural tendency is to focus on what’s wrong with something before I see what’s good– much less comment on it. And while I do agree that some people are naturally encouraging, genuine gratefulness for someone’s achievement, talent, cooking prowess, craftiness–what have you–is something we all should express regularly.

But why you ask? A few reasons.

First, I think it keeps us from comparing ourselves to others. I can’t speak for men, but it seems like women do this all the time. I do. But when I do it’s the kiss of death for my creativity. Whenever I start to go down the road of comparing myself to another person it suffocates me and slows down my desire to work on whatever project I have going. I start thinking stupid things like ‘I’ll never be able to write as well as __’ or ‘I wish I had had the same opportunities as __ so I could do __’.  Kiss. Of. Death.

Secondly, encouraging other women allows me to be a part of someone’s story and might even be instrumental in helping a friend reach a goal they weren’t sure they ever would. Every woman has dreams that they want to see come true. Some are realistic, while some may not be. But that’s okay. I’m not saying that you should tell someone with the voice of someone like, well, me, that she sounds like Charlotte Church. Encouragement should not be insincere, but should be a genuine expression of gratefulness not only for outward abilities, but perhaps only for the sheer determination to be intentional about working hard at something.

And finally–I promise– we should encourage one another because quite frankly people like to be around encouraging people. More so than us tell-it-like-it-is kind of people. Sorry. Trust me, I know of what I speak. There is a place for criticism in the world–thank goodness– just not all the time. For us glass-half-empty sort of folks we have to remember to pepper in some cheer-leading along with our ‘helpful suggestions.’

I truly want to be excited and not jealous about the success and giftedness of others. And I’m sad to say that I have been–too many times to count. Part of that is simply me learning to be content where I am (not necessarily physically, but sometimes this does apply) and see my life and experiences as unique and just as valuable as everyone else’s.

Perhaps I’ve been thinking about these things so much more as I begin to write more and ask for feedback. I didn’t realize how much a kind word or two really inspired me to go on even when I felt defeated. I assume I’m not the only one who feels this way from time-to-time. And I thought how wonderful would it be if every day I/we intentionally tried to encourage someone with words that affirmed and didn’t criticize. Tried to build up and not tear down.

Ladies, I think that would be very encouraging indeed.

the tortoise and the rough draft

Rough draft of 93,718 words– Done.

I should feel excited about this. And I guess I did for maybe about a day or two. Then I started reading books on editing and looking over what I’d written and… Ugh. No other word for it. There is so much to do on my story that I feel a little overwhelmed and paralyzed at the moment.

Character problems, grammar problems, dialogue problems… on and on.

I feel like I’ve got 93,718 words of pure mess to sort out. Pure. Mess.

Ugh.

Did I say that already? I mean it. It’s like when you drop an entire bottle of spaghetti sauce onto a marble floor and it explodes all over your kitchen. For a moment it seems easier to move to a new house than clean it up. So you just stand there and look at it for a while. Red sauce spattered all over the floor and cabinets and your pretty white dish towels. Where do you begin?

Ok, so I’m going to rely on a little Isak Dinesen to encourage me this week because I need it. I posted this quote last week, but it really applies to today, so I’m re-posting.

When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.” – Isak Dinesen

Little by little. The tortoise and the hare.

Okay… Chapter One.

she’s not there

Today I have been thinking about my grandmother or Maw-Maw as we call her. She’s in her seventies and has Alzheimer’s. It’s something she’s had for a long time–possibly even in her fifties, though we didn’t know it then. We just knew for a while something wasn’t right.

And I’m not talking about the fact that when I was in high-school she bought me underwear from a garage sale, a tradition she continued when I had my first child who was still a newborn when she bought him his first pair of garage sale undies.

It was more the way she would get explosively angry with my grandfather and rant on and on about everything that was wrong with the world, then after a little while she would be as calm as a kitten and slip me five dollars with the promise I wouldn’t tell Papa that she had done so.

She grew up poor as so many did in rural parts of North Georgia. Her father was an abusive alcoholic and in her childhood she worked long hours around her parents’ farm. She married my grandfather as a teenager and had my mother at twenty-one. She wanted a better life for her daughters than the one she had had so she worked whatever jobs she could to insure her kids were dressed nice and had good food to eat. I remember she always had wished that she could have gotten a proper education so she could have had her own cafe. She loved to cook. And Sunday afternoon fried chicken is still a happy memory for me.

But then things started to change. I remember not wanting to go to her house anymore when I was a teenager. It was always messy (she refused to get rid of old things); her cooking lacked the same care and flavor it had once had; and she was always angry about something. She was only in her fifties at the time, but looking back I believe she had what is called early onset Alzheimer’s. What other reason could there be for letting the Thanksgiving turkey thaw out on the back porch for two days during unseasonably warm weather, then cooking it and feeding it to your grand-daughter’s new boyfriend for lunch? Glad he married me anyway.

In my teenage ignorance I didn’t understand her though–I thought she was insensitive and didn’t care about me. That she was just angry and stubborn. I didn’t know the pain she’d endured in her early years and the stress it had put on her mind and body. I just saw the behaviors I didn’t like and the soggy, over-cooked green beans I was forced to eat at her house or the yard sale shirts she would buy me every week that I would say a grumbling thanks for, then donate them to Goodwill.

When we moved from Georgia 7 1/2 years ago I wasn’t sure I’d even see her again because she was declining quickly in both mind and body. But today she is still here–but in body only. The last time I saw her, just before we moved overseas she was calm and loved seeing my kids, but had no idea who we were. She appeared small and frail and childlike. And even though she’s been like that for a while now–I never get used to seeing her this way.

My heart feels tender towards her lately because I wish that I could have known her– had a real conversation with her as an adult. I wish she had never had Alzheimer’s and could have taught me how to make the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted.

I am grateful I have precious memories of her buying me and my cousin frilly church dresses, keeping her freezer full of multicolored popsicles for us in the summer, and letting us help her gather new potatoes and turnip greens from her garden–that was where I think she was happiest.

So these days I pray she will have peace soon. Peace for both her mind and body and freedom from the disease that took her away from us much too early.

a little inspiration

“Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before, how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way, and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever…” – Isak Dinesen

When I was in fourth grade my mother and aunt took me and my cousin to see the movie Out of Africa. It’s not exactly a children’s movie which made me feel a little grown up at the time. Since then it has remained one of my favorite movies–ever. It’s ironic to note that my husband has never actually watched it, even though I’ve seen most of his John Wayne movies. But I digress.

Out of Africa a story about love, loss, and the determination of a woman, Karen Blixen, to make a life for herself in colonial Nairobi in the earlier part of the 1900’s. And even though at ten I was not the intended audience, it left a deep impression on me. Maybe it was the picturesque landscapes that first drew me in—lions, a woman with a gun on a safari, white linen clothing, etc. Though later on it was definitely the story about the storyteller Isak Dinesen that spoke to my heart and has been with me ever since. For several years a copy of Out of Africa has been present on my writing desk for mere encouragement.

“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” – Dinesen

At this point a very brief history might be helpful…

In 1914 Karen Blixen, who wrote under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen, moved to Kenya to marry her second cousin Bror. There, she and her new husband purchased a house and land just outside the city where they had hoped to have a thriving coffee plantation. She was in her late twenties when she moved there and spent almost two decades in Africa until a series of tragic events occurred and forced her to return to Denmark. Her memoir, Out of Africa, on which the movie is based, is about her life in Kenya minus most of the messy relationship parts on which she is doesn’t give many details—biographers did that later on.

“When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.” – Dinesen

Over the years, particularly when I was in college, I did quite a bit of research on Dinesen’s life and work. I love characters in general—both real and literary—and she was certainly fascinating and enigmatic in life and on paper. There’s something about her story that inspires me– her strength as she lived in a country very different than her native land of Denmark; her determination to find happiness, but often experiencing loss and sometimes physical pain; and finally the way she seemed to take life’s joys and disappointments and use them to craft her stories, which is what resonates so much with me now.

So whether it’s Isak Dinesen or Karen Blixen, she has been an inspiration in my life in ways I can’t aptly express in a blog post. If you are interested in further reading she has several collections of beautiful and sometimes haunting stories along with more stories from her experiences in Africa.

“God made the world round so we would never be able to see too far down the road.” – Dinesen


needs and wants

I read a blog today that mentioned how some authors will only use one particular color of ink when writing. I thought this was interesting because I once held a similar preference. Okay, not just a preference a way of life.

For a long time– like years– I wouldn’t use blue pens because they seemed inferior to black ones. Black pens, that’s where it’s at baby! And at that time I kept a journal more regularly and it was always written in black ink. Only.

Then one day tragedy struck and I was out of black ink, but I desperately needed to spill my heart out onto paper because I had just smelled a pumpkin spice candle and it reminded me of home and I needed to capture my emotions…la, la, la. So, I had no choice, I used blue ink! And it was actually okay. The world still kept turning and it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. So now, I can no longer claim being a “one-ink-kind-of-gal,” I go both ways.

Silly right? But I get his point which was that sometimes we can’t distinguish between needs and wants. Or at least sometimes I can’t, rationally when I’m in a situation when an want feels like a need. Can you relate?

It’s true none of us needs any particular color of pen unless you live in India, which I do, and have to fill out paperwork frequently with black ink only. In that case it’s a need and not a want. I need to make certain government offices happy to be able to stay in the country. Done.

Wants that present themselves as needs are never-ending and sometimes sneak into the needs category when I’m feeling homesick and, you know, I need a real hamburger, I need to just drive myself to Target (wish they would open one here!), I need to walk into a mall and not be stared at constantly… not life or death needs at all, but sometimes it feels like it.

When I get down to the basics all I truly need is Jesus, my family, food to eat, clothes to wear (does that mean shopping falls under this category as well?), and to write (more on this later), though my husband has just said that he doesn’t think Jesus and writing fall under the same category, he has a point here. Anyway, what I want… well that’s quite a long list that I won’t go into here.

This year, I would like to try to do a better job keeping these two clear in my mind. I think it’s important because when I don’t have them in the right place I get my priorities skewed, I get restless and off track and that’s not a good way to live. Luckily I’m married to a steady-Eddie who helps me out with this. No, his name is not really Eddie, if you were wondering.

Anyway, just some thoughts for today.

the end is in sight

This year has already been a very productive one. I am a half chapter and a prologue away from finishing a rough draft. Ah, if that only meant I was totally done… but alas, re-writing, beta readers, etc still looms ahead. But I have to say I’ve never been so motivated to get anything done before unless it was a grad school paper or a submission on my love of disco for my High School paper–it was a very good article I assure you.

Anyway, I have many witty and self-deprecating blog posts just dying to come out, but alas, this WIP (work in progress) is the baby that needs the most attention right now. I’m also trying to spruce up the old place and make some changes to the look and feel. Eventually I will be posting to my personalized website, but that one’s still on the back-burner until I can devote some proper time to it and find someone who can help me with the design stuff. I’m not a techie. At all.

So I hope you are thoroughly enjoying 2012 and I hope to be back to blogging next week on a more consistent basis… Tuesdays and Fridays to be exact. Look at me getting all organized!