40 Days of Change

mardi gras

We Christians are in the Lenten season. It starts the day after Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday.”)

mardi gras mask

Mardi Gras season actually begins on January 6th, the Epiphany, the day that commemorates the Three Kings or Magi’s visit to Baby Jesus. The last week before Lent is celebrated with parades, feasting and carousing. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we will die.” Or in this case, “tomorrow we will diet!”

**One of the traditions of Mardi Gras is King Cake, a colorful cake with a plastic baby inside. King cake reminds us of the three kings finding Baby Jesus.**

It is tradition to observe the forty days of Lent by giving up something. As a children, we often gave up candy or television. After Vatican 2 in the 1960’s, we were encouraged to be more positive and think of others, giving up “anger” or grudges or doing something positive for others. Both practices remain as people choose their own Lenten observances.

In the Catholic church, it is mandatory to practice “fast and abstinence” dSoup nazi lenturing certain days such as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We “abstain” on every Friday.

“Abstinence” means not eating any meat. There’s an age requirement but my mother made it “across the board” in our family. The rule is every person 14 years of age or older must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent. Fasting just meant eating light meals and not eating between meals.

People 18 years old to 60 years must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Many people continue to fast beyond that age as a personal preference. The “rule” is there because it was thought that the elderly are frail and need to eat. Nowadays with longer lifespans and healthier, more active elderly people, many see it as archaic.fishBefore Vatican 2, the rules were much stricter, with all 40 days of Lent (excludes Sundays) being days of abstinence from meat. I hated fish, especially growing up in a family of eight in the Midwest where seafood is expensive and not the freshest. We ate a lot of fish sticks. It was double penance! Mom also made meatless dishes like macaroni and cheese, tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, and a Eastern European dish called Haluski, a fried cabbage and dumplings dish.

Lent and St Patrick memeLent can present some issues for us. Consider St. Patrick’s Day which usually falls during Lent. This year, it’s on a Friday during Lent! What do the Irish Catholics do? We must have our corned beef and cabbage! Depending on where you live, the bishop or archbishop may issue a dispensation which allows Catholics to eat meat on Friday. The large Irish community in Omaha received a dispensation this year with the stipulation that if you eat meat on Friday, you must abstain on Saturday. Lent drinking

Lent is a time of self-reflection, charity and prayer. The three pillars or practices of Lent are alms-giving, penance and fasting. It is a time to stop and think about our relationship with God and with other people.

This year a friend of mine started posting on Facebook her”40 Days of Change.” The first one I saw was “10-cents for each cup of coffee you drink today.” I wondered what that meant, so I asked her. She said that at her Protestant church, the pastor handed out Lenten calendars. On each day of the week (except Sundays), a suggestion for collecting change is given, things like 10-cents for each phone call you make or receive, 25-cents for each bed in your house, a penny for each book you own (that would be a lot for me!),  25-cents if you belong to a gym, etc. The point is to think about things you have that others may not have. Then collect the money in a jar and donate it to a charity. With 40 days, it could add up to a good amount and probably not be missed by us.

It seems like such a simple thing and yet one that could impact lives. I have decided to do it. Retroactively, I figured out the amount for the 10 days I’ve missed and have started today with “20-cents for each musical instrument you own.” My sixty-cents today will be added to the $6.80 I figured out from the past calendar days. I will continue until April 15.

The calendar is a good guide. Even if you don’t have the calendar that I got from my friend, you can create your own by thinking of things you have that people might not have access to. I thought these before I received the calendar from my friend:

  • Number of pets you have
  • Number of pictures on the wall and on your shelves
  • Full shelves of food in the refrigerator
  • Number of cupboards/shelves with food in them
  • Number of televisions in the house
  • Number of devices like iPads, readers, phones, laptops
  • Exercise equipment
  • Number of bathrooms in your house
  • Number of clocks
  • Number of cars, motorcycles, boats you own
  • Number of windows in your house
  • If you have a shredder or security system
  • If you have a swimming pool
  • If you have a financial advisor
  • Number of chairs in your house
  • Number of pens on your desk
  • Number of photo albums

The list you can create is endless. Then assign an amount to donate such as a penny for every pen in your desk drawer or $1 if you belong to a gym or have a financial adviser. At the end of Lent, put the change in the collection basket at church or donate it to a charity of your choice. The exercise is a good reminder of what we take for granted every day and what other less fortunate people in the world don’t have access to.

This Lent, let’s give up our selfishness and self-righteousness and turn our self-involved behaviors outward to help the poor, disenfranchised and needy of our community. I think we will benefit immensely if we become more self-aware of our gifts and share them with others. We can “shine a great light” when we focus on others.

“And that’s the way it is.”

I was watching the Today Show while eating breakfast this morning when I pondered why is media the way it is? Where have all the reporters gone? (Apologies to Pete Seeger.)

Whmusic-notes-855908ere have all the newsmen gone, long time passing. Where have all the newsmen gone, long time ago. Where have all the newsmen gone, gone for celebrity every one. When will we ever learn? When we ever learn?

“News” flash: Megyn Kelly is moving to NBC!

Matt Lauer makes a lot of money. NBC just signed him up for 2 more years at $20 million a year. Lots of twos. He’s been there 20 years. He has a 2 year contract and he will make $20,000,000 a year. Maybe he should buy a lottery ticket with twos across the board (as if he needs more!) What would Walter Cronkite think? (Oops! Wrong network!)

fortune.com/…/nbc-today-matt-lauer-contract

For a few years, I’ve noticed that television anchors are not reporters but celebrities. We get our “news” from celebrities. Kim Kardashian could step in for many of the so-called reporters! (Wait, is that true? Is she going to host the Morning Show?) False…for now.

Why is hearing about an anchor’s pregnancy relevant to the world? Why is watching a celebrity perform some feat more important than the orphans being whisked out of Syria, in fear of their lives? Why aren’t problems like poverty being addressed or reporting on hunger in our own country? We seem to want to watch trivial things instead of being confronted by real news stories that are harsh realities.

Walter Cronkite was at CBS for 19 years. As a reporter and then anchor, he covered WWII, the Nuremberg trials, Vietnam, the assassination of JFK, then MLK’s assassination. He reported on Watergate and the Iran Hostage Crisis. He covered the news! We didn’t know when or if his wife was pregnant or what college his kids went to. He never told us what he had for breakfast that morning. He said, Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened.” 

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I wonder what he’d think of today’s world. I’m sure he’d be shocked by all the false “news” that has been bandied about this past year. He strove for objectivity in reporting. He said, Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine. Nowadays we are seeing more opinion being “reported” as “news” than truly objective journalism. There are someexceptions. I think photojournalism is still relatively forthcoming. Hard to lie when you take a picture of burned out houses or people running from a gunman or storms hitting a part of the country. I don’t think photo manipulation has entered the field. A cynic might think it’s only a matter of time, but I know some very reputable photojournalists (i.e. my DIL) who would never stoop that low.

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Walter Cronkite had his faults. Some colleagues thought he was too proud or dictatorial, but we could trust him. The American people believed him when he reported something. I wonder what he’d say about this past year. Maybe something he said years ago:

“We are not educated well enough to perform the necessary act of intelligently selecting our leaders.”

Anymore, news is all about the ratings. How much money can a network make from advertising? The higher the rating, the more advertising income. The higher the ratings the higher the $$$ rewards to the anchors and reporters.

The news media is important for our democracy. The freedom of the press is usually the first freedom to go when a country is falling. But we need a strong, hard-hitting press that doesn’t cave to celebrity and the mundane.

“There is no such thing as a little freedom. Either you are all free, or you are not free.”

walter-reporting

Writing conferences, retreats and lonely husbands

Last weekend, I attended the Nebraska Writers Guild fall conference in Aurora. This coming weekend, I’m participating in a writers’ retreat with my small “generative” writers’ group. My husband may forget what I look like.

Typically, the NWG organizes a big spring conference in the Omaha-Lincoln area and a fall conference further west, in hopes of reaching more of the writers throughout Nebraska. We’ve gathered in Aurora the past two Octobers. The board brought in national speakers, to small town Nebraska. Several members had the opportunity to pitch their books. (I didn’t because I’m not ready.)

Friday evening began with author readings. Whomever chose to, had five minutes to  read something they’d written. I decided I was going to give it a shot this year. I selected a short story I’d written and spent two hours at home, honing it down to 5 minutes. I arrived in Aurora, one-hundred twenty-three miles away from my home in Omaha and checked my messages. My husband texted that I left my abridged short story at home. I quickly rummaged through the stories I’d brought to give to my non-author librarian sister-in-law. I quickly made scratches and x’s on one of the stories while other readers read. They draw our names so I had no clue when I’d be called to read. Luckily, I had time to figure out which parts of my story I was going to read. Like many writers, I prefer writing over speaking or reading aloud, especially in a large group, so I was nervous. I did okay. My friends said so, anyway.

The next morning, the conference began. It was difficult to get up at 8:00 am and head to the center. I had been “hostess” to an impromptu wine tasting in my room the night before.

An agent from NYC spoke on “Promoting Yourself as an Author Before and After Publication.” A marketer spoke on “Effective Social Media for Busy Authors.” A New York Times Best Selling author enlightened us on Book Bub and an author from Dallas, also a bestseller, spoke on “Lessons from the Self-Taught Path.”

Taylor Stevens, the self-taught author/speaker and bestseller told her story–a child raised in a religious apocalyptic cult. With only a sixth grade education, she faced many challenges when she left the cult as an adult. With no work history or job skills, she struggled to find work. She went to garage sales and bought boxes of used books for $5-10 and resold them individually at a slight profit. She was raising two children at the time. Her life was a lesson to us all who want to give up when we can’t get published. She overcame many difficulties and now writes thrillers. http://www.taylorstevensbooks.com

I would guess there were close to 100 people or so at the conference. We did a lot of networking. Some sold books. Some caught up with old friends. And many came to my room after the Friday evening readings and drank wine until 1:00 am.20151003_151934

 

This coming weekend, I’m participating in a writers’ retreat at Mahoney State Park. Our small, but mighty generative writing group plan a special gathering each year, usually in the fall. We find a location conducive to writing and make reservations. We each decide a topic we will present to the rest, all six of us. We have done this for over 12 years and look forward in anticipation every time.

When we plan the retreats, we pick a theme. For example, when we met at the Willa Cather home a few years back (see “Bat at Cather Home” story on my home page), our theme had to do with books by Willa Cather. Another retreat featured a movie about Beatrix Potter so our theme was called “Child’s Play.” We followed that retreat with “A Spoonful of Sugar” the next year. We started the evening watching the “Saving Mr. Banks.”

Our retreats are a combination of honing our skills, learning new information and having fun. We allow plenty of time for”free write” when we go off by ourselves and write whatever we please. We typically have at least one session where we write from a prompt and share. The retreat ends with “Bedtime Stories” on the last evening. We gather in a cozy room, bring our hot cocoa or tea, maybe some popcorn or a snack and we read something we’ve written. No critiques, just listen to stories.

This weekend, our theme is “A Recipe for Success in Writing.” The topic was inspired by my recent acceptance into the Nebraska Life cookbook, which I’d hoped would be available in time for the retreat. This time we’ll watch “Julie and Julia” about the person who blogged while cooking from Julia Child’s cookbook.

Our topics include goal setting, writing an author bio, blogging, and memoir cookbooks. I have asked my fellow writers to bring a recipe that is meaningful to them. I’ve planned a prompt for them to use with the recipe–tell the story. Was it a favorite that Grandma cooked? Did the dish or dessert appear on the dining room table every Thanksgiving?

The trees at Mahoney State Park are beginning to change, so it will be beautiful.

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Maybe next weekend, I should plan a weekend with my “writer-widower” husband. Maybe we can watch some football together for a change.

Going Batty

It happened again. I was with a group of writers, this time at a cabin by a lake, and a bat appeared.

A few years ago, I was in Red Cloud, Nebraska, home of Willa Cather. My generative writers’ group arranged to have a retreat there. We stayed in the Cather home that is now a “bed and bring-your-own-breakfast.” People can stay there and bring in their own food to prepare. The rooms are all named for Willa Cather’s books and I was lucky enough to draw the bedroom that was Willa’s room. It was all very exciting and interesting.

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Me in Willa Cather’s bedroom

The retreat was going well. We were enjoying the camaraderie and writing prompts as planned.

Most of our retreats include “Bedtime Stories.” At the end of the day on Saturday, we gather in our jammies and read stories we’ve written. No critiquing, just listening to the stories. It’s great fun.

So, as we prepared for the stories, one of the writers went upstairs to get her laptop. The rest of us waited in the parlor. A blood-curdling scream echoed through the wall. One of the writers got up to see what was wrong. Soon she was screaming, too. A bat was in the house. It had trapped the writers on the stairs. It flitted back and forth in the hallway. One writer, a farm wife, tried to herd the bat outside, but it kept flying back and forth. The screams sounded like the doppler effect. You could tell the location of the bat by the intensity of the scream. It was an adventure and the full story is on this site. (I mistakenly created it as a permanent story on the main page. Click on the title at the top of the main page.)

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The Cather Home in Red Cloud, Nebraska

The recent bat encounter occurred July 10th at 2am. I was with writers, a different group than before. We stayed at a cabin by a lake. Our hostess had warned us that a bat had been sighted the night before but we all opted to come anyway. At dinner, we talked about the bat and made a plan. Since bats are considered endangered, we couldn’t kill it. We would catch and release.Those of us who are less squeamish would capture it, if and when it showed up.

Most of us slept in the loft where four beds were set up, two on each side of a bathroom. The beds were out in the open. The most fearful person got to sleep downstairs in the enclosed bedroom. I lay awake, reading until around 1:30 a.m. I had just drifted off, when I heard a scratching sound. I perked up and listened. The shrill cry of the bat came next and before I could react, it was on my head. I said in a calm, but somewhat loud voice, “The bat is back.” Another gal came over to my bed with a towel, but the bat had disappeared. We couldn’t find it anywhere. So, she returned to her bed and I laid back down in mine. About two minutes later, it was back. Again, I said, “It’s here.” She returned with the towel and we looked for it. It flitted back and forth under my bed and then we lost it. Cathy raised the bed ruffle and there it was, clinging to the material. She threw the towel over it and it stopped moving. Apparently, it thought it was safe with the towel hiding it. Cathy picked up the towel-wrapped bat and took it to the front door, releasing it into the night air.

I thought my head felt strange. I touched my scalp. It was damp. Did the bat bite me and cause bleeding? I went into the bathroom to look, but it wasn’t bleeding. I thought the bat had peed on me. So, I washed my head as best I could. I went back to bed and started thinking about my death. How long did I have before I would show signs of rabies?

I googled “Medical care for bat bites.” I read “Seek medical attention as soon as possible.” What did that mean? Could I wait until tomorrow or did I need to go somewhere now? I called hospital in the nearby small town and they were no help. They told me to call Poison Control. “No, the bat bit me. I didn’t eat the bat.” But they insisted I called Poison Control because “they had all the protocols”and could tell me what to do.

As a nurse, I knew better, but I called anyway. Poison Control sounded irritated over the phone. “Why are you calling us?” So, I was back to square one. I googled “rabies” again, this time asking “when do symptoms occur?” The answer: most of the time 2-4 months after exposure. Maybe I had some time. I wasn’t seeing angels yet. Then I saw the disclaimer. “however in some cases, symptoms begin 2-4 DAYS after exposure. Great. I was going to have to cut the weekend short.

The next morning, I left, driving 70 miles back to Omaha on 4 hours of sleep. I’m not sure how I managed to stay awake, but I did. I went to the Methodist ER and they were wonderful. I had a rabies shot in my right arm, and several gamma globulin shots (to boost immunity). Two in each thigh and one in my left arm. The worst part was the tiny ones in my scalp. Also, there was a small bite I hadn’t noticed in my left thumb, so they injected around that 5 times. It wasn’t as bad as I thought I might be, but I don’t care to ever do that again. I have to have another booster. I had my first booster that Wednesday and then another today. One to go!

The shots are no longer given in the abdomen. That stopped in the 1980’s, thank goodness. People reported they were pretty bad. The ones I got weren’t too bad.

I have decided that, if I’m with a group of writers in an older house or at a cabin, I’m taking a “bat kit” with me that will include a box to put the bat in. (Don’t release the bat. Save it so it can be tested.) We’re pretty sure my bat was rabid because of the moisture on my hair that I thought was pee. The doctor said it was more likely saliva. Also, the bat had been very erratic, like it had an injury. The person who saw it the night before thought it had hit the ceiling fan and broke a wing. But the doctor said it could’ve been acting that way because it was sick. So, always keep the bat after you capture it. Put it in a box or plastic container. Otherwise it’s shot time!BAT

My bat kit will include:

  • gloves. Don’t pick up a bat with your bare hands. Thick gloves should be worn.
  • netting to cover my head in bed in case the bat comes near
  • a butterfly net for capture. Or an old t-shirt. (The Humane Society says not to use a towel because the bat’s wings and claws can get caught in the small loops of fabric)
  • a container to put the bat in like a small cardboard box or food container (without the food!) The Humane Society also recommends a piece of cardboard that might work as a temporary lid or scoop to get the bat in the box.

When my generative group found out about this encounter with the bat, one said, “You know what the common denominator is here, don’t you, Sue.” I said it was hanging out with writers. Their reply, “No. It’s you!”

In my most guttural voice, “I’m Bat Mom!”
Batman and Robin

 

 

Story Ideas and Techniques

Where do you get ideas for stories? Many of mine come from observations I’ve made and experiences I’ve had. Once in awhile something will just pop into my head. When I am on a “roll” and things are moving along,  it’s so exciting to me. I lose all track of time. Does that happen to you?

I recently wrote a short story (and I think it’s a work in progress) and ideas came so quickly, I couldn’t keep up. My fingers were flying across the keyboard. I couldn’t keep up with the thoughts in my brain.

I am grateful for my education in journalism in the 1970’s at UNL. As a student, I learned to type and think. It was much different than the leisurely handwritten thoughts that I was used to. I had to sit at the typewriter and, in rapid fire, put down my thoughts. It was daunting. But now I have difficulty putting pen to paper because my hand is slower than my brain when I write.

I have discovered that I like to write mystical stories. I’m a reader of mysteries, thrillers and spy novels so this has come as a surprise to me. My latest short story is called “Dream Catcher” and it’s about a museum curator who has the uncanny ability to sense things “other worldly.” I got the idea while looking at the dream catcher that hangs in my bedroom window.

Dream catchers started with the Native American of the Great Plains, the Lakota and Sioux. They believed the air is filled with both good and bad dreams. Dream catchers were hung in the tepees and on the babies’ cradle boards for protection.

According to legend, good dreams pass through the center hole to the sleeping person. Bad dreams are caught in the web where they die in the light of dawn.

Traditionally, the frame was made of willow hoops and animal sinew or cordage made from plants. The circular shape represented the sun and moon (and time) as each day moves across the sky.

Now, soft leather cord or synthetic materials are used. The hoop is likely wooden or plastic. They are often decorated with feathers and beads. Mine has an arrowhead in the center.IMG_3865

I have several dream catchers in various forms. I’m not sure when my “collection” started. Like many of my collections, it was inadvertent. I received some from the St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota after making a donation. I continue to receive them now and then, even if I don’t send a donation. I bought the one I have in my bedroom while vacationing in Colorado Springs. I also bought a dreIMG_3868am catcher necklace on another trip to Colorado. I’ve had one of my dream catchers so long, I don’t recall when or where it came from. It is made of leather and is very simple but beautiful with pinkish webbing. It’s one of my favorites.

http://www.dream-catchers.org/category/history/

In my story, the protagonist, Frank de Salle, is a museum curator who was born with microtia. The character is loosely based on my brilliant younger brother who is deaf. My character’s name is Frank de Salle, named for the patron saint of deaf persons, St. Francis de Salle.

Frank and his sister, Christine, a reporter, travel to the Pine Ridge reservation where they attend a powwow. Things happen as they journey onward to the Black Hills and into Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower. All culminates when Frank returns home and is visited by a ghostly figure one night.

Excerpt from “The Dream Catcher”

Frank de Salle was born with a missing ear.   He could speak but he knew he didn’t articulate very well. Strangers treated him as though he was retarded. He sensed it was because of his slurred speech and very loud nasal voice. But he held advanced degrees in both anthropology and history.

 He worked at the college museum as a curator where he set up traveling exhibits,  cataloged museum pieces, and conducted research on artifacts. He worked alone and lived alone and he was fine with that.

His modest two-bedroom home sat ten blocks from campus. He had a drivers’ license but preferred to walk. Pedestrians didn’t cut in front of one another or flip each other off as they hurried down the sidewalk. A nod or smile made it a much more genial mode of getting from point A to point B. Oh, he’d drive in the winter sometimes but leave early in the morning before there was much traffic.

When he spoke, he could hear his words echo in his head and thought they sounded fine, even though strangers looked at him in an odd way. “Don’t yell so loud,” Christine would say, but then he couldn’t hear his words. His speech therapist explained that, with his hearing aid on, he could hear about as well as someone underwater in a swimming pool might hear, whatever that was.

Sometimes he’d feel a vibration before hearing a sound through his hearing aid. Doctors told him that his other senses were heightened. He overcompensated because of his deafness. An oncoming car felt like he was holding an electric razor with the sensation passing through his entire body. He liked vibrations, his connection to the world.

Want to read more? Let me know. Leave a comment below. 

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“Everything the Power does, it does in a circle.” Lakota Proverb

“A man’s life is a circle from childhood to childhood, and thus it is in everything where the power moves.” Black Elk

 

Writing Class

An opportunity presented itself to me this winter. I found out about a program at the local university called the “Senior Passport.”

I hate to admit that I celebrated my “Medicare Birthday” this year but being 65 has given me some new opportunities. I signed up to audit a class on writing short stories. It has been a wonderful experience.

Each Monday, we meet and discuss short stories and present short stories we have written since the previous class. The professor packs the classes full of information and activities. Fortunately, we are a small group so there is time to get most of it in.

Each week, one of the students presents a short story to the class. The story I chose was “Train” by Alice Munro. With the stories, we discuss the author’s background, the story plot and twists, the characters and the setting.

Then we critique short stories we have written. This is my favorite part. It is fun to read what other people have written and to offer suggestions to one another. The other students are all fairly young but they offer many good suggestions on how I can improve my stories and in turn, I offer my opinions on their stories.

Writing in a group has a way of bringing people together, of bonding with one another. Being the “old lady” of the class, when we first met, the others were more interested in looking at their i-Phones than chatting during break. But as we began to share our stories, we talked to each other more. We got to know one another through our writing.

When I presented my story about growing up in small town America in the 1950’s, many of the other students came up to me afterwards with comments. One young man asked me about Roger Maris. He lived in Fargo, SD, for awhile and told me about a museum dedicated to Roger Maris in that town. We talked about the excerpt from my story (below) and shared some laughs.

Leaving their dogs to roam the streets, they’d head to the theater four blocks away.  Once inside, they bounced on the padded flip-down seats and waited for the lights to dim. “I hope they show Bugs Bunny today.” Gloria grabbed a handful of popcorn from the bag.

“I like Woody Woodpecker best,” Bob said.  They both made the classic “Hahaha-ha-ha” laugh of the cartoon character.

            The bouncing stopped as they heard the whirl of the reels begin. A black and white circle with a grid appeared on the screen, “Please Stand By.” They clapped their hands. A countdown flashed with numbers and they chanted, “Five, four, three, two, one.” Then the newsreel announcing “News of the Day.” Black and white pictures appeared on the big screen. Large white letters announced that Queen Elizabeth christened a ship somewhere. Roger Maris hit another home run.

            “I love Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle,” she whispered to Bob.

Another student talked to me about anorexia, a topic I breach in my story.

Flipping to the next page, she found several greeting cards. “Happy 6th Birthday” in big red letters.  A chubby cheeked girl in pink drawn holding a bunny on the front of another said, “You’re Turning Six!” One caught her eyes in particular. It was from her big sister, Barbara. She recognized the exact loops, uniform and clear, marking her signature. Always perfect. Her sister was ten years older than she and the oldest, making her the boss of the family. Whatever Barbara wanted, she got. She was talented, smart and pretty. But she was also a tyrant.

Gloria thought she probably had anorexia. Back in 1957, no one knew about anorexia nervosa. Mental illness was considered a character flaw. Barbara hid her problem from adults, but the siblings knew something was amiss.  She ate a lot of celery.

Others talked to me about my story in general and commented on what they liked about it as well as some pitfalls in my writing. It was interesting to see how the story brought us together.

Writing is a powerful tool. We are reading “Fortune Smiles” a book by Adam Johnson, a Pulitzer prize winner. His short stories are very intriguing. Our professor asked if we thought writing was just for entertainment or was there a deeper purpose? Most of us agreed that writing can change minds and promote social justice. Why else would tyrannical governments burn books if the words inside didn’t offer threat?

Books like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” brought the plight of slavery to the forefront. Dozens of books including “To Kill a Mockingbird” shed light on the law and people’s prejudices. The short stories in Johnson’s book touch on topics such as cancer/death and dying, living with a disabled wife, pedophilia, and the Cold War attitude of an East German prison warden.

The class has given further proof that “The pen is mightier than the sword.” The most exhilarating feeling for me is when my writing touches a soul. I may curse the Muses and wonder why I were given this “need to write” but then, once in a while, something magical happens and people are influenced by something I’ve written.

Have you ever had that happen? Tell me about it.

 

 

I Saw It with My Own Two Eyes

In our critique group, we often run across areas in our work where we have inserted unnecessary words. “Tautology” is a new word I learned. It means “needless repetition of the same thing using different words.” Examples are “I went there personally.” “He made it with his own two hands.” “Frozen ice covered the road.” “She made predictions of the future.”

Do you see the repetition in each of those sentences? (And in my title?) Obviously, I see with my eyes and I have two of them. So a more correct title would be “I Saw It.” Boring title but at least it’s not redundant.

Crazy sign

I wonder what prompted the need for this sign? Confusion? Was one problem solved but another created?

A sign at a bank ATM reads “Enter your number one digit at a time.” Is there another way? I wonder what would happen if I pushed two buttons at once?

A library in California warns, “Beware silly signof pedestrians on foot.” I suppose pedestrians in cars could pose a different problem.

Some signs may not be tautology but are just plain funny. I saw a sign on a door in an Iowa truck stop that read, “Electrical personnel only.” Every time we stop there on our way to Chicago, I look around for the electrical people.

Once, while driving across Illinois on the toll road (I-88) and dealing with major road construction, a temporary sign sat above the “45 Minimum Speed” sign. The temp sign read “45 Maximum Speed.” My son, the driver, saw it and said, “Cruise control, don’t fail me now.”

No trespassing

Humor is often used in signs. As a teenager, I lived in a small town surrounded by ranches and large spreads. I remember one sign on a fence post read, “No hunting without permission, and DON’T ASK!” Another sign on a very narrow gravel road out in the middle of nowhere warned “No parking.”

One of my favorite signs is the one below. I can relate to it on many different levels, especially as I continue writing my novel with all its twists and turns.

What are some of the funny signs or statements you have seen?

one way