Monday, January 29, 2018

A Few of my Favorite Things


Raindrops on roses . . .
I love getting presents, but I love giving them more.  While shopping if I see something that reminds me of someone, I buy it and give it to them the next time I see them.  I seldom wait for a birthday or any other special day.
With ten grandchildren, I am on the constant look out for things they might enjoy – books, toys, clothing.  I love to shower them with presents, but come September, as much as it hurts, I stop doling out goodies and start hoarding for their Christmas stash.
Brown paper packages tied up with string. . .
My blog turns seven years old this April.  It needs a revamp, a rebrand, a rejuvenation, so I decided to celebrate its anniversary with my followers, those dedicated few who have stuck it out with me throughout the journey finding my “voice” and all.  Hey, we celebrate birthdays with presents and cake, right?
But there will be no cake. Sorry.
To be eligible to win the end-of-the-month giveaway, a reader has to follow on my blog page (and, sorry again, be a member who lives within the contiguous United States because of the postage).
For January, I have chosen to giveaway my favorite thesaurus The Synonym Finder by J. I. Rodale.  I found my first copy years ago at a Borders bookstore and have since owned five copies of this book.  The original one sits on my book shelf, tape and glue holding its binder together, but I have a second copy on my desk.  Two were gifts, and the fifth copy sits inside a “If it fits, it ships” postal box, waiting for its new owner.
I have also chosen a movie whose story made such a huge impression on me that I scoured the Internet for years until I found it for purchase.  Made in Ireland, and originally a four-part series on the BBC, Falling for a Dancer didn’t make it to the US (and Amazon) until recently.  I own the DVD and the original book by its author, and I watch all three hours and twenty minutes of this treasure once a year.
The reader/writer giveaway would not be complete without including a swanky new journal and some writing implements, so I added some of those in there too.
I simply remember my favorite things. . .
I keep hoarding things for future giveaways and have to restrain myself from doling them all out at once, so favorite readers. . .  
Join as a follower. Get in on the fun.  I promise you will enjoy the gifts.

 And thank you for sticking with me all these years. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

My Most Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World



          My father taught me to read long before I went to school.  There were few children’s books in our house, so he opted for the encyclopedia set displayed in the living room. 
          Volume 1: Aa-Az.
          He loved nonfiction and probably wanted a return on his investment since the set was so expensive.  He thought it was a good place to start.
          I know everything there is to know about aardvarks.
          I have been in love with reading and writing all my life. I remember playing in my mother’s flowerbeds and scratching letters into the dirt with a stick when I was barely out of diapers. I spent seven years in a Catholic elementary school with a library so small that all the books were my friends. By the time I graduated, I had read every book twice, sometimes three times.
          At home, my mother bought provocative, pulp, best sellers, and my father collected graphic, historical, nonfiction, but both were strictly off limits to us kids. Since they both worked full time jobs, I snuck and read my parents’ books whenever they would not be home for long stretches of time.  My grandmother took care of us, but she was too busy reading her own “Mexican novellas” written in Spanish to notice what I was doing, reading from the “adult” section of our book collection.
          I have read thousands of books in my lifetime.  Many are memorable and many weren’t, so not one stands out as my favorite.
          Sure, I could name the Bible or some classic.  Maybe a book on social change or an eye-opening best seller.  How about a sleeper that no one else has stumbled across?  I could impress you with my superior knowledge, pretend to be cool and cosmopolitan, but the truth is – I am a book nerd and nothing else. I am in love with books, hundreds of them, and it all started when I mastered the encyclopedia entry on aardvarks. 

Thanks, Dad. Your investment paid off. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Why a Wordsmith Should Read Poetry

My father was a poet.  He wrote amazing, long, rhymed poetry for all occasions – birthdays, weddings, holidays – and gave them away as presents. 
He read Shakespearian iambic pentameter and Neruda’s long, laborious odes (in the original Spanish) to me before I knew who these poets were.     
During the day my dad was an accountant, but his real love included music and poetry.  I did not inherit his musical ability (you do not want to hear me sing or play the kazoo), but I did inherit his admiration of poetry.
My own poetry is forgettable so I prefer to relish in the poetry that isn’t. 
My Catholic elementary school had a tiny library.  It fit in what used to be the janitor’s closet, but right there tucked among the hundreds of books on the saints and martyrs was Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  She was neither a saint nor a martyr. Her Sonnets to the Portuguese made me break out in goosebumps. Her profession of love to Robert Browning made me wonder if something so bold did not break a Commandment or two.
In high school I discovered e. e. cummings.  Poems did not have to rhyme.  They could take liberties with convention.  I ate up every poem of his, delighting in his puzzling lyricism.
For years I taught Frost and Dickens and Eliot to reluctant readers. I tried to infuse them with the thrill those great, famous poets gave me.  I may have failed but I had fun trying.
For my own pleasure, I read Billy Collins and Nikki Giovanni and Naomi Shihab Nye, and I pretended to like Silverstein and Prelutsky only for my children and students’ sake, but I still have their books of hilarious poetry on my shelves.  
As a novelist, reading poetry is a daily brain exercise, a study of ideas and images, an interesting formation of sentences and lines, all using an economy of words.

All of this may be why my father was fascinated with poetry. There is a common base to mathematics, music, and verse.  They all have an internal beat, a systematic form, a message to be portrayed.  

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Finding My Zen in Writing


One of the perks of spending more than half of my life teaching secondary school was the amount of reading I had to do to keep up with the students’ curriculum.  The secondary reading list (grades 6 -12) had been vetted on so many levels that by the time it got to me, it was a guaranteed must-read.
I read hundreds and hundreds of books. Some authors were not my favorites, but then others changed my life.
Ray Bradbury was one of those. “All Summer in a Day,” “A Sound of Thunder,” “The Small Assassin,” Something Wicked This Way Comes, Fahrenheit 451.  All deliciously creepy, sad, or shocking.
“To keep a muse, you must offer it food.” He wrote and read daily from childhood until his death – poems, essays, anything and everything - especially other authors who did not think or write like he did.
“Not to write,” he states in his book Zen in the Art of Writing, “is to die.”
Truth in those words.
He perfected a writing process that worked for him, making daily lists of word associations.  He delved into childhood fears and personal nightmares, writing down everything he could remember of each, and from there created short stories that might later become novels.  He said a writer should be excited about the work he or she creates; he suggests “burning down the house” or “standing on a land mine.”
When asked if he wrote prophetically, warning his readers of the future, he stated he only wanted to prevent it.
About the benefit of literary criticism or creative writing degrees, he stated that the only degree or direction a writer needs is to find his own “Zen,” a mindful DAILY writing practice, a routine by which the author comes to an honest understanding of what works and what doesn’t on the page in front of him or her.  Write until at ease with the writing.

Some people call it voice or style; Bradbury called it Zen. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Reap What You Sow


When I walk into a grocery store, I avoid what does not appeal to me – the pet food aisle, the baby goods, the canned foods.  When I walk into a department store, I have no use for the men’s department, the petites, the evening gowns. When I go to a craft show or an antique sale, I avoid any and all that doesn’t appeal to me – jewelry, pottery, paintings.
Likewise, with social media.
I have no tolerance for foul language, graphic videos, and opinionated slander. I have no use for hate, anger, and bullying.
Social media “sells” to me, so I have the choice to avoid them, “unfriend” or “block” them, or erase them all together from my feed.
“Persons reap what they sow,” so I will feed my soul and mind what I aspire to be.
I refuse to be bullied into accepting what others (who are no better than I) think is cool, trendy, or viral.

I keep abreast of the news, I check sources, I keep an open mind, but I also want to live a healthy, happy, hospitable life. 
And that is how I will start 2018. I hope you join me in this venture.