Archive for August, 2013

No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it. (Paulo Coelho)

At a writers’ conference several years ago, I heard an agent or editor, don’t recall who it was, talk about how important it is to have a polished ready-to-go manuscript. She emphasized the necessity to find a unique approach, a fresh angle. A memoir that simply tells “my story” can’t cut it. However, I believe in tact. When a woman wrote the story of her ordeal surviving breast cancer, this professional bluntly told the woman it did not stand out. It added nothing. In essence it was no different than anything already written. The writer broke down in tears. Perhaps that one-on-one rejection could have come with constructive criticism instead of an ax. But I don’t read so-so manuscripts all day long. I only edit my own groaners.

Writing is a tough business.  I write anyway, whether I make a lot of money or not. I’m addicted. When one small group of folk told me I had touched their lives with my words I felt honored. That doesn’t mean I don’t have goals. I want to write well. But, if I don’t touch hearts, I have failed by writing only fancy words.

Occasionally I also write songs. These are always positive and have a limited audience. When a friend shared a story about a 96-year-old man named Fred who wrote a song about his deceased wife, Lorraine, I was intrigued. He didn’t follow a single rule for the contest. He couldn’t sing or play an instrument. In fact he wrote that if he sang he would scare people. Yet the professionals who conducted the contest were touched by his sincerity, read his lyrics, and decided to record his song. It didn’t follow the guidelines for the contest, but it fit the requisites for the soul of a song.

Warnings appear on the YouTube clip to keep tissues close by, and don’t watch if you don’t want anyone to know you have working tear ducts. (Well, that’s not a direct quote, but it gives a clear enough notion.) http://twentytwowords.com/2013/08/26/widower-submits-a-song-about-his-wife-of-73-years-to-a-songwriting-contest/

Since I have watched the video, several times now, I find myself humming “Sweet Lorraine.” My son gave me a gift card for iTunes. This sounds like a good place to use it.

In the meantime I celebrate an out-of-the-box success. The video has gone viral. The words don’t suggest that there was anything different about Fred and Lorraine. They lived an ordinary life. Well. But, they did it for 73 years. And that is tougher than facing a hard-nosed publishing world with a few pages of printed words.  

Kudos to Green Shoe Studios! You found the treasure because you could broaden your vision. Thanks.

Fred hears his words come to life in song.

Fred Sweet Lorraine

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The world is like that—incomprehensible and full of surprises. (Jorge Amado)

This photo of me and my brother is over sixty years old. It needs a caption: You mean this is my sister and I’m stuck with her? Or, that wasn’t a kiss, it was so slobbery I thought you were a Great Dane. I can’t use the informal word, pic, for any of the photos I found hidden in our attic. They belong to the time of rotary phones and black-and-white television. Folk wore suits and dresses, even to sporting events.

I can be found among my brothers easily in the collection. I’m wearing the frills. And yet the expressions on the faces of my family remain universal: Enthusiasm. Joy. Excitement. Wonder. Change the hairstyles and put jeans and sweatshirts on the people in the scenes and they couldn’t be distinguished from one taken in a modern family fifteen minutes ago. Although I’m not sure how to describe my brother in this picture: surprised maybe, definitely cute.

Little people remain little people in any age, in any culture. For me life didn’t exist beyond that floral stuffed chair and my back yard, Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa and my brother, Bill. The future extended no further than alphabet soup for lunch or a picnic with Aunt Bette and Uncle Harold. Childhood seemed eternal.  Even at the advanced age of five, the fact that I would one day become a grandparent would have sounded as outlandish as Jack climbing the beanstalk and facing a giant. Actually, the giant appeared more believable. After all, I had scarcely reached the height of an adult’s naval by that time, probably not that high. I was a runt from the day I was born at four pounds and seven ounces.

Children believe life is what they live, wherever it is. In peace or in war. In the city or country. In a healthy home or one where love is only a word.

The multiple scenes of a baby girl in a silly floppy hat give me the notion that my family was excited to begin a new generation. Not everyone has had that experience. People tend to expand their own experience into another person’s thinking. One of my favorite quotes comes from Anais Nin, “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.”

Perhaps that is why I find it so important to tell my grandchildren how innately good they are, every time I see them. At least once. And to encourage them when they show compassion for others. Nine-year-old Kate talks about setting up a benefit for a friend in need. No, I have no idea how she would do it. But that won’t stop me from encouraging her. The world is filled with surprises, and even if those surprises aren’t wonderful, if children learn they have power deep inside, they will be okay. At least eventually. That is my prayer.

Bill and me 08192013_0000

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In this world, you must be a bit too kind to be kind enough.
(Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux)

Ella runs toward another child with white-blond hair as if their fair heads were halos meant to merge.

“Hi! Hi!” Ella is finally talking. Her vocabulary is limited. She still uses sign language for most communication. Down syndrome has affected her development. But she has always expressed enthusiasm with complete clarity.

The boy seems puzzled, but accepts our little one’s hug. His sister, perhaps a year younger, continues toward the parking area at the Museum Center. Then she hesitates. I suspect she isn’t going to miss out on the love her sibling is getting. Ella doesn’t disappoint her.

Ella, Grandpa, and I are on our way to the Museum Center. However, our three-year-old girl is in no hurry. Each step on the journey brings its own adventure. She sees a little girl in a stroller and blocks Mama’s path to ooh and ah over someone younger than she is.

While my husband and I apologize for the interruption I hear my name called. I see Marcia, a very special friend who has enlightened my life’s path in deep and beautiful ways. I’m both surprised and happy to see her. Her smile fits the halo image. An embrace feels in order.

She introduces me to Mama and the little one in the stroller. The child is on her way to nap time and barely tolerates Ella’s gushing. Fortunately, the little girl isn’t screaming yet. And I am grateful.

I don’t count the number of stops it takes to get to the door. After all, we aren’t late for a plane. A fountain, a cloud, or a block of cement can fascinate if approached with curiosity. Adult responsibility has damaged a lot of my spontaneity. If I don’t catch my granddaughter’s life lessons, she will show me again, without any sign of irritation.

In one play area inside the museum she insists upon putting on a sheriff’s vest by herself. Unfortunately it includes a scarf with an opening along the back that could be an extra arm hole. Although Ella never figures out how to maneuver the vest, she doesn’t give up, and she doesn’t throw a tantrum and blame costume construction for getting in her way. Life is what it is. Difficult. She has known that since she was born seven weeks early with multiple medical needs. She has overcome most of them.

One girl seems insistent upon going up a slide the wrong way. Ella waits patiently at the top. Within minutes the two children are playing together. The other girl runs back to Ella to give her a hug before she leaves with her grandparents.

One embrace has led to another. So simple and honest. And it took a child with a tripled twenty-first chromosome to begin the cycle. May one kind gesture direct another… and another…and another.


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If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.  (Nelson Mandela)

Service we needed done in our house takes up a large portion of the afternoon: drilling, decisions, and comforting a five-year-old who doesn’t like noise. No time left to go to the Y for a swim. I expect Kate and Rebe to express serious disappointment. They handle the situation well.

Rebe gets custody of PBS Kids on my iPad while nine-year-old Kate and I do artwork in the second-floor storage area of our house. There is no air-conditioning here since we have no place for duct work, but this has been declared girl territory, a clubhouse arena of sorts. The heat isn’t as horrid as August usually offers. I’m holding out. Rebe manages for a while, and then returns downstairs to the cooler air and Grandpa.

“You can have this page,” Kate says, tearing it out of her brand-new book of designs to create and color. “You can make cards for the family, and then copy them on the computer.” Kate is always planning. She wants to turn our storage area into a play room. That will take not only time but ingenuity. With Kate’s enthusiasm, however, I can see it happening.

She watches as I show her how to blend colored pencil, rounding strokes inside a circle, adding depth by easing orange around the edges of yellow. “See how it looks if you leave a tiny bit of white in a block of turquoise—on purpose.”

We share, heart to heart. I feel free to tell her that someday Grandma and Grandma may need to sell this house and move to a condo, when Grandpa gets too old to mow the grass. Not now. Someday.

“I hope that never happens,” she says. “There are too many memories in this house.”

I am impressed by the depth of a child who hasn’t reached double digits yet. She adds that she is not disappointed that she didn’t get to swim today. She got to spend time with me.

I look around at the haphazard space around us: old blankets, photos, a box with my old published materials, the dolls I bought for my mother—nothing of outstanding value. No one from Better Homes and Gardens has ever approached us with an offer to do an article. Nor do I expect any in the future. Yet, I am blessed.

Finally Rebe returns upstairs, her demeanor comments on the heat as she looks at us working in the corner. “Whatever are you thinking?” she asks.

Kate and I laugh. One more memory has been added to the rest.

learning from children  morning coach

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There’s something ugly about the flawless. (Dennis Lehane)

As a child I thought perfection was attainable. Expected. On multiple levels.

On an achievement test my sixth-grade teacher emphasized how important it was to erase completely. Pencil residue could be picked up and two filled-in boxes would mean an automatic wrong answer. I sat in the back corner of the room and sighed. That day had been particularly difficult, although I don’t recall why.

Not far into the test I needed to erase. The process became gruesome to this literal student. I moved so slowly through the pages that I eventually gave up. The next year the psychologically ignorant teacher positioned us in rows according to the grade we got on that test. There wasn’t enough room for the last two rows of desks—they were shoved together. I sat in the dummy section. After all, if we cheated the answers were bound to be wrong.

I must admit that seventh grade turned out to be fun. I sat next to the class clown. However, the image that teacher had of me stuck and showed up in my grades. Once again, why bother?

Then, that winter we were given an assignment to write a one-act play based on a book by a Catholic author. Mine was taken from “Fabiola” by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, first published in 1854, a, thick book from my parents’ book shelves. It spoke of persecution in the lives of early Christians in the catacombs during the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian. My teacher did not believe I had read the book much less written the play. My parents needed to verify the fact that I had chosen each word with the required fountain pen at the kitchen table. I had to bring the book to class so that both the principal and teacher could see that I had not plagiarized my assignment. Strangely, I was not frightened. I knew the work I had done was honest.

I won first prize in the Greater Cincinnati area from that one-act play. My grades improved drastically. Yet I was the same child, in the same row. By then I wouldn’t have chosen to sit anywhere else.

Those students I sat next to weren’t dummies either. Perhaps their skills didn’t include diagramming sentences and answering multiplication tables within a given number of seconds. I have no doubt that those conjoined rows housed kids who eventually owned their own businesses or who became beloved parents and grandparents, exemplary citizens, military heroes. They became folk who could find that glitch in a car’s engine no one else could find. Many probably graduated from college and earned degrees because they had learned to work for what they wanted.

They created common miracles no one ever chronicled. We are all important—in different ways.

(pic from Positive Words to Love By)

dogs and differences Positive WoRds

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