Writing My Life

Now and Then


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One of My TRUE Stories Illustrating the Power of Reading

I am an admitted read-a-holic. I constantly listen to audiobooks, too. There are worse addictions – like Facebook. (I struggle with that! What a time-sucker!) Anyway, back to reading. I’ve been thinking about it a lot: why it is an important part of my life, how it enriches my thinking, why it finds my heart, and how it straightens me out.

I suppose a friend’s recent comment about books in general and novels in particular stimulated this thinking. She said, “I’m having trouble figuring out how a novel could be useful or helpful for anyone.” And that’s when I remembered the two Ruths. The first Ruth is a young mother I once knew, and the second Ruth is Ruth White, author of Belle Prater’s Boy and many other young adult novels.

A favorite YA novel of mine.

A favorite YA novel of mine.

The two Ruths came together when I agreed to lead a book discussion as part of a Relief Society monthly meeting. (The “Society” is the Mormon Church’s women’s auxiliary.) The hardest part of this assignment was choosing a quality book that would not shock, bore, or overwhelm the participating women. While many were well-read, some were not, which meant I needed a novel that was not too long, too simplistic, too challenging, or too popular.

Because I was a middle school teacher, it was not hard for me to turn to adolescent literature where I can always find rich options that appeal to young and old alike. The reading levels may not be high, but the subject matter can be multifaceted. I decided upon Belle Prater’s Boy as it features fine writing, likable and unlikable characters, charming humor, plus a complex, heart-wrenching theme about loss.

Author Ruth White

Author Ruth White

As I recall, all the women enjoyed the book, and our discussion was filled with excellent insights, diverse viewpoints, and intelligent analyses. My friend Ruth’s response, however, was the most touching, but she did not share it that night. I saw her a few days later at her half-sister’s house, and she pulled me aside to tell me how much she loved the book. Ruth then told me she suffered from dyslexia, and her schooling included special education classes where teachers usually read the novels aloud. Belle Prater’s Boy was the first novel she had personally read from beginning to end. It had taken her the entire month, but Ruth read every word.

If that wasn’t enough to start my waterworks, Ruth then shared her favorite part of the novel. It seems that her mother had taken her own life when Ruth was young, and, of course, the event haunted her. But a passage near the end of the book brought a level of understanding and peace to her heart and mind.

In chapter 23, twelve-year-old Gypsy and her cousin Woodrow go to a treehouse to watch the sunrise and to commemorate the day Woodrow’s mother Belle disappeared the year before. During the conversation about their losses, including the suicide of Gypsy’s father Amos, the two youngsters face the fact that their parents left their children on purpose – not because Belle and Amos did not love the two of them, but because “their pain was bigger than the love.”

That choice encounter has never left me. It is one way a novel can be “useful or helpful” to someone.


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Keep Your Vampire Lovers, I’ll Take THE VIRGINIAN Any Day

The Virginian?” you ask.

This 1902 novel by Owen Wister, “almost single-handedly established the cowboy archetype” (Recorded Books Classic Library).

While today’s readers may be disappointed that scenes of hanging and shooting don’t occur until three-quarters in, some might appreciate the story’s deep philosophical character study. BUT what female can resist the romantic hero? Why the cowpuncher’s three-year courtship of high-spirited Molly Wood of Vermont is more tender than even Jane Austen could have imagined.

Interestingly, Wister’s description of the handsome hero did not make me envision Gary Cooper or James Drury, but rather my great-grandfather, a once-living ringer for the fictional character.

Great Grandmother Elizabeth's brand of beauty may not have been considered adequate for the screen role of Miss Molly Wood, but in reality, she was a perfect match for the school teacher.

Yes, Great-Grandpa Henry's photo fits Wister's description of the nameless cowpuncher perfectly.


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… Sunday reflection: “Read until you learn something” …

If you know me or have followed this blog for a while, you understand that I am an avid reader of young adult fiction, historical fiction, fiction fiction. I also like to read “trade books” about my profession – teaching and literacy. As a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (aka Mormons), I am admonished to read the scriptures daily. For a variety of reasons, this isn’t always easy to do.

While I won’t go into ALL the excuses I’ve used over the years to rationalize why my Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price gather dust as they sit on the book shelf or bed table, I will say that it often boils down to “mood.” These books of wisdom are NOT easy-reads! The verses, stories, and lessons require engaged thinking, reflection, and questioning. That means work, work, work.

One of the reasons I enjoy reading is because of the escape, and the idea of “getting away” is often more appealing than “getting into.” But I also LOVE learning, and that is what draws me back to these texts that teach me lessons that go beyond this worldly existence.

Because I know that readers glean more from reading if they set a purpose, I find I cannot study the scriptures just because I am supposed to. The first time I read the Book of Mormon, for example, was to learn for myself what was in it. I belong to a church that claims the book is a record of ancient peoples, and that its pages testify of Christ. So, back in 1962, I attended a seminary class in 9th grade where the teacher assigned us to read every verse, page, and chapter.

Since that time, I’ve read the Book of Mormon a few more times for several different purposes. Once I underlined every reference about Christ’s birth, ministry, death and resurrection. Another time, I studied what the Book of Mormon taught about a variety of topics: adversity, relationships, life after death, repentance, the nature of God, and the role of evil, etc.

Sometimes I study for hours – usually when preparing a church talk or lesson; sometimes I read for a few minutes and many times I don’t study at all. Because I felt guilty during those times of omission, I asked myself why I didn’t feel like diving into the body of scriptures. Realizing it was more than being too tired or busy to study for a few minutes that kept me from my reading, I experienced the aforementioned epiphany of needing a purpose. But then I struggled with finding a motivating purpose!

While mulling over all this personal struggle, I picked up my dusty Book of Mormon and pulled out a card tucked between the pages. On one side I had written these words:

Read until you learn something.

“Light bulb!” I decided that would be my purpose –  until I found something better. So far there has been nothing better than that noted advice from Andy Barlow, a near-by acquaintance. With that thought in mind, I told myself I could stop if I learned something after 5 minutes of reading.

While this happens once in a while, I find that when I learn a little here or a bit more there, I don’t WANT to stop. Interesting, isn’t it? And paradoxical. Because I give myself permission to close the book and snuggle under the covers after ingesting just one thought-provoking morsel, I feel free to continue. I’ve also found that I take greater delight in what I am learning.

... read until you learn something ...

To track these illuminations, I scrawl the “big ideas” gleaned from one or more verses in bright red ink over those printed lines of inspiration. The act of “writing to read or learn” cements thoughts more solidly in my mind and heart. And a quick look back over the pages helps me remember or review my lessons learned.

I love it, look forward to it, and grow from it.


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… 50-word “Gatsby” fiction: Jordan and Nick …

Note: Today the WordPress daily prompt intrigued me: “If you could be part of any fictional universe, what would it be? And why? (For example Star Wars, Mad Men, Hamlet, etc.)”

I thought about it throughout the day and decided upon the fictional universe of The Great GatsbyRather than list possible reasons for that choice – the fashions, the conflicted post-World War I era, the intriguing but shallow characters, etc. – I am choosing to enter the universe via my 50-word fiction. So I climbed into the minor-major character Jordan Baker’s psyche to visit Fitzgerald’s literary Jazz-age world.

 

 

I rather resent Daisy’s crusade in finding me a suitable man.

I suppose she distrusts my taste in the male species. Understandable. 

I don’t trust myself – in anything.

Tonight Cousin Nick is the lamb to be sacrificed upon the altar of Jordan’s respectability.

I pray I don’t like the fellow. 


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… visual stories …

When I write one of my mini-stories, I don’t feel that it’s finished until I find a photo or art work to include with it. So I spend another hour or so searching Flickr or other resources to find something that fits – sometimes perfectly and sometimes “not so much.”

Tonight I thought I’d start with the art work and then write the story. I’ve played around with a variety of genres – from historical fiction to paranormal parody to science fiction – and now I’d like to dip into dystopia. With that in mind, I want to introduce you to the work of digital painter Marek Okon.

Here is what he says about where he gets his inspiration:

When its a book cover, inspiration comes from the story I’m reading. During reading I see all the scenes in my imagination and then I pick one that will fit the cover best, one that will draw attention of the people passing by this book. When its personal works I usually create my own little story around the picture, so every piece of equipment presented, every location and character has its part in the world presented. I rarely go and create something accidental.

I hope Marek doesn’t mind if I “create my own little story around” one of his pictures. I haven’t decided which of the two I’ve included here, but return tomorrow and see what I come up with.

I also invite YOU to try your hand at this as well. Choose a picture as inspiration for your own 50-worder, and share it with me. Please.

Til tomorrow, caio.


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… 50-word historical-romance fiction: The Norseman and the King’s Daughter …

Note: Just finished Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell – mostly a novel of bloody battles between Danes and Saxons. One important skirmish, however, led to an unlikely and doomed romance. The following 50-word story unfolds a glimpse of what may have happened.

In the midst of defeat, the Norsemen kidnapped Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred and battered wife of Aethelred.

The warlord saw her through eyes blinded by gold and silver ransom, but Erik, his brother saw the frightened child-bride with his heart.

His gaze penetrated her fear, and she accepted the dangerous offering.

 


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… what I learned about the Holy Ghost today … and yes, I am a believer …

G.E. and I were sitting on our favorite padded pew on the back row – which is the last row before the folding chairs that fill up the overflow area. As usual, I was “glowing” – the euphemism for “perspiring” – which is better than saying “sweating.” At any rate, I was caught up in all three. At times like these, I wish I had a lovely folded fan from China or Japan, but I have yet to find one -which is quite unusual when you consider how many items ARE made in China. (I don’t see so many from Japan any more – other than cars, but I think Toyotas and the like are also manufactured in the good old U.S. of A.)

Enough stream of conscious writing, already.

With NO fan in sight, I snatched three stapled sheets of paper from G.E.’s pile of lesson materials. (He teaches the 16 and 17 year old boys during the priesthood hour.) The 3 papers served wonderfully as a make-shift fan, and in moments I was out of heat-stroke danger. At that point, I scanned the writing on the paper and became engrossed with the lesson about the Holy Ghost. While I have attended 100s of Sacrament meetings, Sunday School classes, and Relief Society lessons, I don’t ever remember learning parts of the doctrine I read in that lesson.

While most KNOWN readers of my blog are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I realize I have a few that drop in who are not.  Because the Tony-winning play, THE BOOK OF MORMON, parodies our religion, there are lots of wild notions out in the world concerning our beliefs. I doubt that many folks sit around the dinner table discussing what Mormons believe about the Holy Ghost, but just in case that is the case, I’ll share what I learned today by reading G.E.’s lesson.

First of all the entire lesson can be found on LDS.org – click HERE if you want to check it out. I am only going to mention my 2 “ah-hahs,” and if you want to see where the inspiration/revelation is referenced, the above hyperlink will take you where you can get that info. Now that all the prattle is out of the way, let’s get started.

  1. The Holy Ghost is the 3rd member of the Godhead, he is a spirit, but he takes the form of a man – and ONLY a man. I know the New Testament indicates that after the Savior’s baptism, the Holy

    The dove - SYMBOL of the Holy Ghost - NOT the Holy Spirit itself

    Ghost descended upon Jesus “in the form of a dove.” According to the prophet Joseph Smith the dove serves as a “sign” of the Holy Ghost and the appearance of the dove signified that the Savior received the Holy Ghost. BUT no, that third member of the Godhead does NOT transform himself into an actual bird.

  2. The Holy Ghost is not and can not be omnipresent, BUT his power and influence can. This is the analogy presented to explain this complex concept – and I love it for its clarity. Okay, we know that the sun occupies a place in the heavens, and that is the only place where our sun can be found. Nevertheless, the sun’s rays can be felt throughout our world – in many places at once – and so can the power and influence of the Holy Ghost be felt by many of God’s children at the same time.
Of course, I realize there is much more to the doctrine concerning the trinity, and  I could share additional beliefs about this interesting topic. But the final and most important tidbit is my testimony that I have felt that power and influence of the Holy Ghost many many times in my life. While some believe this doctrine flies in the face of logic and reason, but it supports and strengthens my faith in God the Father, His son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. Faith is NOT based upon logic and reason. There is so much more to that as well. In the end, I am thankful for this knowledge and for the inspiration, revelation, and comfort I have received from this particular spiritual emissary from my Heavenly Father.