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Reading, writing...that's what I do.

Love for the printed word, love and belief in ideas.

How & Why We Must Forgive Our Hurts

“Aw get over it.” “Hey, let’s just forget this, okay?” “I’ve moved on.”  “Forgive and forget.” “Won’t you please forgive me?” “I just want you to know I’ve forgiven you.”

The key to any of the above is that we often crave forgiveness, and that sometimes we have to be the one to forgive. The latter can be hard to do.

As a child, I experienced the need to say, “I’m sorry.” And being raised a Catholic, I experienced Confession, now called Reconciliation. Early on the focus was only…what did you do wrong?

Thus my FIRST SIN. I lied. I told my mother that our neighbor needed kitchen matches. The truth: my friend Greg and I wanted to sit on a tree stump at the back of his yard and LIGHT THEM. Which we did, and luckily we didn’t set the world on fire.

 

LEARN HOW TO FORGIVE

Current memories, like something I did last week…if normal, are probably a blur. But strong pain can push other good memoires aside. Why is that? The calm of the day to day no longer flows evenly. The pain comes first. It stings and you yearn for peace, and forgiveness is part of this peace. When I did confess my lie about the matches to my mother, she forgave me, along with a lecture about starting a fire, telling the truth. That’s how children learn.

 

A PAINFUL AND CONFUSING MEMORY  

But sometimes it is the adult who needs to say they are sorry…and that doesn’t always happen. The story…My fourth grade teacher handed out forms for us to complete. I tackled mine using my best penmanship until I came to the blank for “father.” I stopped. Everyone else was writing busily, our teacher at the blackboard, her back to me. I raised my hand, kept it up until finally she turned around. She was annoyed asking, “What’s the problem, Beth?”

“I don’t know what to put for father?” 

She studied me for a moment, as if she were truly seeing me for the first time.

“Write deceased,” she said curtly, turning back to her work.

What had she said? What was that word?  I didn’t even know how to spell it.

 

DEALING WITH OUR HURTS

Maybe that was minor, but certainly we all have our pain, and often it is a pain we cannot shake. Even the flow of our days can be interrupted by that pain. The issue of the forgiveness question gets bigger and more complicated. Some issues beg for forgiveness, and if that forgiveness is not provided, does not heal the pain, it can weigh you down, create depression, rip dangerous holes in your and my relationships.

Because bottom line, it is hard to forgive someone, espeically when you have no idea what you did wrong, or you don’t believe the thing you did is truly worthy of the treatment you’re receiving. Most of you know that I lost my father when I was just a three-year-old kid. That was me, fatherless.

But because my mother gave us love and security, we didn’t think of him. We said a prayer that my mother had created, said it every night, but truly a prayer rattled off like a jump-rope rhyme.  For on some level Daddy was there, the thought of him steadily present in the background of our lives. But we were just kids, and deciding who got to wear the raccoon-tail hat when we played Davy Crockett or who discovered what was for dinner became more important to us than thoughts of our dead parent. That is called living, healing. And so we all grew, accepting the love the four of us shared. And we were happy and prospered despite the lack of our father…it’s called strength, it’s called life.  

THOUGHTS ON LIVING IN THE BODY

What I often question, and would love your thoughts on, is as we age, why does our mortality become harder to accept? Is it our long span of health, our independence, our previous functioning that now disallows us to acknowledge we are mortal, that we might become ill or in some way disabled? As Wordsworth wrote in Intimation of Immortality…as children, we arrive in this world: But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Maybe it is because our children don’t have as firm a stake in the world as we adults have, because of the length of time…though throughout life, all of us will come to a point, where because we live in a human body, we must compensate, we must adapt. A broken bone; a surgery, an illness. Sometimes it is only for a short while, but sometimes it is longer. And it can lead to death. And it always hints at our mortality. 

CHILDHOOD SURGERY

I was only five, when after eye surgery on my left eye, I had to wear bandages on both eyes for a week. Why both? The explanation: the doctor didn’t want my good eye to have to work too hard. Weird? Yes, and very difficult for a child to be blind for a week.  

I also have a friend who recently developed MS, Multiple Sclerosis, so that now her ability to compensate and adapt with the negatives of this condition colors her life.

Because if we lose a limb, or develop a disease, we are still the same person, though now challenged. And how the world sees us, how we live and adapt…has definitely changed.   

The change might be the result of physical or mental scars from a traffic accident, a fire. And though integrally the same person, we eventually accept our losses, experience the struggle of adjustment, continue to live in the world, accepting this challenge, realizing that how we think and love has not been changed. We learn that if someone labels us, the speaker is doing this to distance himself from what could also happen to him. Because as humans, we carry with us that deep-seated fear: if it happened to him, it might happen to me. 

DEALING WITH PHYSICAL DIFFERENCES 

Do we instinctively know that our bodies are fragile? From the beginning, we crave distance from the pain and suffering of others. But as a child, I did not realize I could give pain to someone else when I wanted to look away from the changes they were going through; that they might be suffering. Maybe I found my way into nursing to better understand that reaction, to acknowledge it, and to be more open and understanding. Humans, whether they have lost a limb, an eye, are unable to walk, are now blind, need hearing aids etc, are still human, still engaging and able to give and receive love. 

Once, when I approached a blind man, warning him that the usual entrance to the mall was blocked by decorations, he whirled on me, told me he knew exactly where he was, and how to continue on. And so I stepped back, slowly realizing that I had invaded his space. In that particular situation, I was wrong. But then…another question…do we take for granted our bodies and how to care for them?  

LIVING IN THE BODY

Should we approach each car ride, each walk, each climb up a ladder with the belief that no harm will come to us? YES! As humans, whether totally healthy or challenged, we must walk out into the world with the belief that ALL WILL BE WELL. That is not to say…we should not be careful; That IS to say, we cannot and should not live with dread and fear. 

So enjoy the sunshine, the boating, the water skiing, the run around the park. Accidents do happen…but life is about LIVING. It is not about fear. 

That’s why our children jump off porches, ride their bicycles down steep hills…climb mountains, swim beyond the markers…take the hardest ski jump.

They live in their bodies. They enjoy the adrenaline rush. We hold our breath. It is part of living.  

AFTER ANNIE, a NOVEL by Anna Quindlen

For years, I read and admired novelist Anna Quindlen. My introduction to her work was BLACK AND BLUE, published in 1998, a remarkable novel, focusing on spousal abuse, in a time when such an accusation was rarely believed or talked about…the wives, partners of abusive men fearful of coming forward; the lawyers of the accused often humiliating these women despite their bruises and broken limbs.

QUINDLEN’S SUCCESS 

The appearance and success of such a needed work, eventually led to Quindlen joining Newsweek, in 1999, where she wrote a column focusing on women and the conflicts they faced in a constantly changing culture. Quindlen’s research, her desire to reveal and discuss societal problems emanating from the materialistic nature of American life, definitely affected women readers, who like me, when getting the latest Newsweek, turned immediately to the last page to read Quindlen’s piece. But then in May of 2009, she announced her semi-retirement, leaving the magazine.

SOME GOOD FORTUNE 

I met Anna Quindlen while living in Des Moines, Iowa. An honored guest at a function for the Des Moines Register, Quindlen grasped my hands in hopes that her writing success might pass on to me. I expressed my love for her novels, an appreciation for her wit and criticism of our culture, which is often too fast-paced and materialistic. I saw parallels in her life and mine, she losing her mother to ovarian cancer when she was only 19, forced to take on roles that set aside some of her personal goals…this at a developmental time in her life; I losing my father early on, my mother having to commute to Chicago for work, making me a latch-key kid, responsible for my younger brother and household duties. 

AFTER ANNIE, Quindlen’s most recent novel, comes on the heels of 9 others, as well as copious non-fiction works. And maybe there is some irony here, that this novel appears at this late date in Quindlen’s creative life, yet comes on the heels of so many other stories. Why, because the novel does deal with the early death of the MC’s mother, thus echoing Quindlen’s loss of her mother, and the responsibilities imposed on her when she was only 19. (Sometimes it takes an author years to approach painful memories. In this novel, I believe Quindlen has done just that.)

THE FOLLOWING IS TAKEN RIGHT FROM THE FIRST CHAPTER: 

Annie Brown died right before dinner. The mashed potatoes were still in the pot on the stove, the dented pot with the loose handle, but the meatloaf and the peas were already on the table. Two of the children were in their usual seats. Jamie tried to pick a piece of bacon off the top of the meatloaf, and Ali elbowed him. “Mom!” he yelled. …

“Bill, get me some Advil, my head is killing me,” their mother said, turning from the stove to their father…”Bill,” she said again, looking at him with a wood spoon raised in her hand, and then she went down, hard, the spoon skidding across the floor….

“Call 911, Ali,” he said to his daughter…

And that is how a change in one’s life sometimes begins.

THINGS TO CONSIDER

Do I have anything negative to say about this most recent novel, by an author I have loved throughout the years? 

Yes, I had the same complaint as the woman who blogs on the goodbookfairy.com 

She wrote: “This was (a novel) where I read the first half of the book and listened to the second half. All the A names got a bit confusing for a hot second – I mean Annie, Ali, Annemarie, and Ant are a lot to recall.”

I TOTALLY AGREE and this was new in a novel by Quindlen…it feeling like a nervous tic. We understand how close and loving the family was, and that often families WILL find names with the first letter…Tom, Tim, Terry and Trace. So cute when you are calling them to dinner…not when you are trying to find the trajectory (sorry another T word) of their story line. So: Why, ANNA?

Maybe Quindlen wanted to stress the closeness of these children in age and birth order, that after Annie dies, it becomes very obvious that her best friend, Annemarie, might know more about Annie’s children than even her husband, Bill, who has all he can do to work every day to support this growing family. Had Quindlen decided it was time to make subtle comments about the need for birth-control? Was Quindlen making a point for LARGE families before women had a choice? The little we do see Annie Brown in the novel, she is struggling, working as an aid in a hospital and then coming home to care for her growing family. Does Annie ever have time for herself?  

One reviewer wrote: “After Annie is a novel about loss–and yet its pages are full of life and heart. With her spot-on depiction of the small moments that brings characters to life, Anna Quindlen tells a family story that’s at once candid and complex–and ultimately hopeful.”

Yes, hopeful, but only when the woman who made it all happen is no longer there!  thus unable  to sit back and relax, view and be thankful for all her love and endeavors. Thus, her earlier novel, BLESSINGS, will remain my favorite. Thanks for reading. 

BLESSINGS: Book Summary: Richly written, deeply moving, beautifully crafted, Blessings tells the story of Skip Cuddy, caretaker of the estate, who finds a baby asleep in that box and decides he wants to keep her, and of matriarch Lydia Blessing, who, for her own reasons, decides to help him.

Today, Let’s Recognize Women

 

Women have a facility for the Work-life Balance. They are often great leaders, because they are able to balance professional and personal leadership skills. It can be easier to approach a woman leader with a personal request or a sensitive question, which includes their performance at work and their work-life balance. This is because women are more proactive in becoming mentors, and sometimes they already know how to form open and communicative relationships, so the transition to mentor is easy.” – Amy Killoran, Lead Product Manager, GreenShield HealthWomen 

  1. Women can be more empathetic. “One of the criticisms that I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or         assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.” – Jacinda Ardern, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand
  2. Women Encourage Free Thinking  “Our emerging workforce is not interested in command-and-control leadership. They don’t want to do things because I said so; they want to do things because they want to do them.”  -Irene Rosenfeld, Former CEO, Mondelez International
  3. Women Focus on Teamwork   “The women [I’ve worked with] consistently demonstrate passion, enthusiasm and an immense capacity to serve and be served by others. I’ve observed women to make bold and wise decisions as leaders while relying on others to be part of their team. The environment is less authoritarian and more cooperative and family-like, but with solid leadership.”   Katharine M. Nohr, Chief Innovation Officer for Sports Futurists, LLC
  4. Women Can Multitask. “Women make great leaders as we are natural multitaskers. The ability to decisively and quickly respond to simultaneous and different tasks or problems at a time is a critical component to successful leadership.”  Carolann Tutera, President, SottoPelle
  5. Women Are Motivated By Challenges   “We are creative problem solvers motivated by obstacles. The desire to overcome a challenge fuels us to get things accomplished. Leaders don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”  – Jackie Zlatanovski, Founder, Flik Flops
  6. Women are Strong Communicators  “Communication is said to be among a woman’s strongest skills — and female leaders know how to use it! Whether communicating with employers, co-workers, or partners, an open communication stream allows for clarity in executing roles and responsibilities. Female business leaders are able to communicate regularly, clearly and openly.”  – Tina Bacon-DeFrece, President, Big Frog
  7. They Dream Big  “Women make great leaders because they have an innate ability to dream big, challenge assumptions and inspire teams — and they know how to translate big ideas into concrete action and results.”  – Angela Dejene, President, Dejene Communications

 

Father’s Day Thoughts, Wishes, Memories

 

On this Father’s Day, John and I are joyful. We have three healthy children and three amazing grandchildren. We have enjoyed living in Chicago, Des Moines, Iowa and Westlake Village, California. But when our youngest, our son, moved to that part of Chicago where we were raised, where we fell in love, we moved back. Time to again be with old friends, to walk the streets we walked as teenagers, and to be near our son Andrew and his wife Amy as they build their live together. 

Fathers are important. Many of you know my story…that I lost mine when I was three. But a strong and amazing mother gave me and my brothers what we needed to grow and thrive. If you have lost a father or a mother, you still carry and will aways carry with you his story, her story, the pictures and the shadows of their lives.

And because of DNA, our parents are always a part of us. For me, drawn to medicine, always reading about human physiology (father), and for me who loves music and singing (mother), I now know and understand inheritance, parental connections. Such knowledge can offer comfort, an understanding of what we might have inherited and how we might benefit from that inheritance. I love stories about my father’s kindness, his love, sense of humor, gentleness.

And when my mother told me those very father stories, I must have subconsciously looked for those same qualities in a spouse, because I definitely found them in John, my husband. He loves humor…my father did. He is loyal, loves his family…my father again. 

Family connecting is a powerful thing…it reaches out, helps us fulfill our needs for love, constancy. Holding close the positive decisions we have made in our lives helps us continue on, to say YES when everything in our hearts, our very core is telling us…this is a good decision, this will benefit those you love. 

John and I have been blessed with three amazing children, our two daughters and our son. And we do find traces of us in them; but when they love different art or music, we listen, learn. We find echoes in the paths of life they have taken…but they are quick to remind us that they are their own people…and rightly so. John and I always yearned to be parents, and for a time worried it would never happen… and then it did!

And so for this post on this Father’s Day…John found a wonderful photo of Caroline, our first child…who we called Carrie. I added favorites of Christie and Andrew, and all three.  

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY, JOHN       HAPPY GRANDFATHER’S DAY!!    WE ALL LOVE YOU!   

Writing a Novel, Short Stories, Essays…Advice from a Guru and Mentor

 

Writers! How we love to sit at the keyboard and write. How we often keep going back to rewrite, change. We focus on interesting vocabulary; the length and composition of our sentences; we enjoy using descriptive language (adjectives, adverbs); we sit back and smile when we have created flowing sentence structures that crystallize our thoughts, making them uniquely ours. We know that the ability to use and feel comfortable with our language is truly necessary. And as we continue to write, the vocabulary we use, the word patterns we create, our facility with different sentence forms all combine to become our writing style, our VOICE.

 

Donald Maass, literary agent and writing instructor, a guru in my life, states the following: Like it or not, the narrative voice in your novel (sub in story, article, essay) exists in time. Or, more precisely, in an era. It cannot help but pick up words, expressions, issues and attitudes that reflect both the times of the story and the times in which you live.

 

So, are you writing something historical?  Maass states: Historical stories can be marred by anachronisms, but then again, the object of historical stories is not necessarily to perfectly reflect the dress, manners, speech and thinking of people of the time. If that were true, there would be no historical romances featuring hunky dukes. (Seriously, name one duke who would look like that, shirtless. Just one.) Maass stresses that as we write, our minds create sentences using the vernacular we are familiar with in our modern age.

 

KEEPING IT REAL 

Maass also asks how we can avoid creating fiction that feels dated. Are there aspects of your story that will cause future readers to role their eyes? AND: what makes a story timeless, despite being written in a particular time? Is it possible to cut from your article or your fiction the clues to manners, morals and mindset of your own times, so that your work lasts for centuries without requiring footnotes? (Wow! That would be a dream come true!)

 

Maass also asks if we writers can create a VOICE and SENTENCES that will be read and understood a hundred years from now. I would answer yes. He stresses a skill we should all cultivate, be aware of: being TRUE to our characters, giving them their own lives, so that they are not copies of our own. Create characters that are unique and fresh. He also suggests that when describing your heroine’s hair style, a future reader might find your description laughable. So how to create a work-around? How to write fiction, create stories that will stand the test of time? ANSWER: focus on the STORY ITSELF.

 

Don’t worry about hairstyles. Focus on PLOT, the major points your story is making, the values it is presenting, the voices that come off the page. Maass lists writers whose work is fresh even today, whose work presents human problems, foibles, the struggles we can all identify with: Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Harper Lee, Zora Neal Hurston, Mary McCarthy… their work coming from times that are not modern, not particularly ours, but whose stories appeal to our humanity…because they are still about us!

 

FINALLY: do the narrative voices in the enduring books we read sound foreign to us?  NO. Because their stories arcs are about love and loss, winning and losing…about human joy and pain, they are about us. That’s the lesson contained in THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION. Maass concludes: what makes fiction timeless is not the trappings of dress, manners, morals, transportation, communication, social issues. It is a story that is time-transcending, universal, always about human experience, human emotions. So go ahead, allow your characters or your narrator to be ANCHORED IN TIME….BUT ALSO allow him or her to be AN OBSERVER OF THE HUMAN SPECIES.

Write, create. Basic human nature doesn’t change much. Use your own experience. Create your characters with all their joys, sorrows and challenges. As Maass assures all writers: future readers will recognize these emotions, will be pulled into your story, feel and understand once again how it feels to be human.  

 P.S. Thanks to Donald Maass  

And do consider purchasing, reading his helpful books, including, the Emotional Craft of Fiction 

 

 

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