Thursday, March 15, 2018

The best advice I ever had and didn't want...

   “You just have it to do.”

   How many times did I hear these words from a former Sunday School teacher-mentor-older friend? More than I wanted to, let me tell you. She didn’t dispense sympathy or platitudes or anything else—just those six words, spoken decisively and leaving no room for argument or discussion.

   Growing up during the Depression in a family with a stepfather and half-siblings, she soon struck out on her own. She “boarded out”, tending children, cleaning houses, doing laundry, and anything else she could find to do to keep soul and body together.

   Once her high school principal said to her, “If you don’t come to school more often, you’re not going to graduate.”

   To which she replied, “Well, I guess I won’t graduate then, because I have to eat.”

   In adulthood, she survived a divorce not of her own choosing and raised a son on her own. She often worked two jobs for reasons I won’t go into here.

   I came to know her when she moved to my hometown (for work) and became superintendent of the junior high Sunday School department in our church. I’m not sure I liked her much at first, but she had ways of cajoling me into doing tasks she wanted done and loved calling me fairly early on Saturday mornings, exuding over-the-top faux “regret” for waking me up.

   Over the years, I grew to love and respect her and soon learned she expected and gave no quarter in life’s battle. “You just have it to do,” she’d intone flatly, no matter what situation I presented to her hoping for a magic—and easy—solution.

   So I did it—whatever “it” was at the time—grudgingly and perhaps not well, but like her, I became a survivor.

   When she died unexpectedly in a car accident, part of me went with her. But I’d visit her grave occasionally, and as I placed flowers in that barren, windswept West Texas cemetery, I was sure I could hear her whispering, You just have it to do, Toodlebug. You just have it to do...

Monday, March 12, 2018

The $64 Question

Why am I who I am? Wow—that’s the sixty-four dollar question.

What forms us?

Is it genetics? Are we who our DNA programs us to be? Is it environment? If we’d grown up in different circumstances, would we be different people?
Is it chance or fate or whatever one calls those circumstances which can’t otherwise be explained?
Do you have an answer? I’m not sure I do, not one I could take to the bank for sixty-four dollars anyway!

A personal exposé?

Not. What I might share with a close and trusted friend, I don’t share publicly. I realize celebrities (and some who aren’t) seem to think the new thing is to ‘let it all hang out’. Please. A little restraint goes a long way, especially when it’s only aimed at getting publicity to advance a career.

But life events do make (or destroy) us…

...depending on what we allow.
Survivors of the Holocaust have told their stories of unbelievable horror.
Prisoners of war also remind of us man’s cruelty to man.
Veterans  speak to us of some inner strength learned in childhood which held them to their battlefield tasks beyond human endurance.
Those who have successfully overcome addiction or stretches in prison for crimes beyond what we can imagine hold us spellbound with their narratives.
Those who struggle with physical illness or disability make us wonder how we would manage under the same circumstances.
Others who grew up with nothing near what most of us consider the bare physical and emotional necessities might make us ashamed to whine.

Life events I’ll share…

Due to circumstances beyond my control or choice, I was raised an only child. Yes, one of those supposedly spoiled brats—and because of many unkind and bluntly spoken words, I grew up believing I was somehow damaged and doomed to remain so all my life. Here let me insert a disclaimer: only children are often more giving than most because, while others were forced to be considerate and to share, we did it because we wanted to. That said…

I learned to be good company for myself. Even as a teen, if I didn’t have a date on the weekend, it wasn’t a big deal—there were plenty of other things to do holed up in my cozy room with record player, radio, portable typewriter, and a good book.

Perhaps being the “lonely only” prepared me for widowhood at the age of 34 and the certainty that raising two children took precedence over the singles scene. Forty years later, retired, still single, and living alone, I’m still good company for myself.

Other events, which I won’t share, made me what I term with some pride “a survivor”. That’s a good thing to be, especially in today’s world.

When I’m tempted to have a “pity party” about anything, I look back over my life, not just with regret at unhappy circumstances but with thankfulness for what they taught me. 

Those events made me...formed me...keep me going...and I’m okay.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The inspiration of...

What inspires me to write? I’m not sure a handy bulleted list would answer the question. It’s more than’s something that moves inside of me to express and deal with my own feelings. Before I did more than dabble with the keyboard, music was my outlet. I could sit at the piano for hours and feel somehow full-circled when I finished. Writing for me is like that, too.

But if I made a list… would include:
  • history: the bravery and tragedy of the young men who “gave up all their tomorrows for our todays”
  • love: that selfless, ‘to love and to cherish, ‘til death us do part’ kind which seems to be found less and less often in today’s me-first world
  • music: the kind which uplifts, not incites
  • biographies: of people overcoming great odds to survive and even triumph
  • philosophies (including sacred scripture) which urge us to become better than we ever dreamed we could be—but not for selfish purposes

  • and church bells, smiles, the warmth and laughter of my grandchildren, random acts of kindness, responsible parenting, daffodils, fields of wildflowers, birds at the feeder outside the kitchen window, blue skies and sunshine, bright moons and twinkling stars, people-watching, savory aromas, candles, silence...and just life

What’s on your list of inspiring things or ideas? I’d really love to know!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The sins of the past...relevant today?

Last week I mentioned the treasure trove of blog topics to be found in Devin Bergland’s article150+ Blogging Ideas That Will Absolutely Kill Writer’s Block.

One which caught my eye as I filled in March’s blog calendar was “Tie a topic in a movie to your niche.” Not being much of a movie-goer anymore, I had to reach waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back. 

1950 to be exact…

I was six years old in 1950, a first-grader, already an avid reader, and a frequent patron of two movie theaters (9 cents at one and 35 cents at the other). Color was becoming more of a novelty, but most of the movies were still made in black and white. No matter. Content—not visual stimulation—was still the hallmark of the silver screen. Because we still listened to the radio (television being a rarity), we got all we needed by simply paying attention to what the actors said and did. And, of course, what they said and did was usually fit for younger eyes.

Two films never forgotten…

Stars in My Crown” with Joel McCrea, a young Dean Stockwell, and wonderful character actor Juano Hernandez, brought the small town of Walesburg, Ohio, alive for me in mind and heart. Sure, there were bad guys—but they didn’t prevail. In fact, when presented with the error of their ways, they made the big turn-around. What? You ask in astonishment. Yes, goodness, truth, and kindness actually won out over greed, bullying, poor judgment, and sheer meanness.

Westward the Women” with Robert Taylor and Denise Darcel, brought plenty of action and romance to the screen, as well as a lesson in not casting that first stone at someone who’d made a bad choice in life but hoped to take a new path in the future.

Fast forward to my writing…

I’ve said before and explained why I don’t write Christian fiction. That’s not to say I don’t write with Christian values, including the two scarce attributes of forgiveness and reconciliation. I’ve written about murder, divorce, abortion, unfaithfulness, unbelief, racial prejudice, greed, revenge, lies, sexual temptation, betrayal, injustice, and just about any other sin you can conjure up. My characters have struggled through all of these and, by God’s mercy (implied, not preached) come out on the other side.

The two aforementioned movies have stayed with me these many years—sixty-seven to be exact: imperfect people doing the best they can, recognizing and admitting their failings, and moving on to better things.

We can all only wish to do the same.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Do you need a schedule even if you're retired?

How often do I dream of traveling the world unfettered, just Penelope (the lappy), a backpack with a pair of extra jeans and a tee shirt, meeting interesting people to turn into characters in interesting places which will become settings?


Even in retirement, real life rears its ugly head—or its many heads like the hydra! I must keep the house, be available for the grandchildren, visit the dentist, the optometrist, and the doctor, pay bills, balance the bank statement, buy groceries, and...yes, write since I call myself a writer.

With some planning, all this is manageable, however. As a teacher, I had to make weekly lesson plans. As a retired teacher-turned writer, I make weekly plans, too.

Supply thyself…

...with what you need to stay organized. I bypass the fancy day planners in favor of the Dollar Tree’s budget and just as serviceable paper calendars—one for each month, one for scheduling blogs, and one for scheduling other activities during the week. I also purchase a small book to carry in my purse so I don’t schedule things on top of each other, especially those “advance” appointments as you are leaving the one completed! (These paper calendars come in handy plastic slip-in holders which keeps them from getting lost! I post mine on the side of the filing cabinet near my desk and can pull out the appropriate page to work on as necessary.)

Sit down once a month…

...with your blog calendar and jot down the topics for each blog you plan to write. Right now I’m using prompts from 150+ Blogging Ideas That Will Absolutely Kill Writer’s Block by Devin Bergland. (First I went through and checked off the ideas I could use and then made a list of them to keep with my blog scheduler.) I mold the ideas to fit my own writing life and also slip in my own ideas from time to time. THEN...

Sit down once a week…

...with the monthly calendar on which you have hopefully placed all your known obligations and appointments. Then, start filling in the weekly calendar.

For me, Mondays are “office days” during which I back up my computer on two external hard drives, file receipts or personal business papers collected during the previous week, make phone calls, have service at the house such as the bi-annual heating and air check-up.

Wednesdays I pick up the granddaughters from school and also cook a meal to send home with my daughter-in-law.

Once you have all the “must-do’s” penciled in, schedule the “want-to-do’s” like writing or updating your website or adding to Pinterest.

I like to use a red pen to check off everything accomplished—and sometimes draw arrows from one day to another if there’s a re-schedule.

One size doesn’t fit all… tweak your planning to fit your lifestyle. Give yourself a break—especially if you’re retired! I’ve tried several different options for planning, but all the planning in the world is useless unless it leads to actually getting things done. Having finally assembled this simple system has worked for me.

So...plan on!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

What's on my bucket list?

Bucket list?

Apparently a “bucket list” is what one wants to do/has left to do in life, and it seems like everyone has one these days.
I’d never heard the term “bucket list” until a questionnaire sent out just before my 50th high school reunion asked me what was on mine! Huh? Okay, it’s one of the newer buzz words, and I was behind the times.

So what’s on mine?

  • Home to San Angelo for Christmas—one more time—to try to regain the warm feeling I had for my hometown before it became an unrecognizable “big city”
  • Spend at least a week doing research in the West Texas Collection at Angelo State University
  • January excursion to Florida—no sightseeing, just walk on the beach and sit on the hotel veranda and write, write, write
  • Driving tour of the historic “ghost towns” in Arkansas
  • Train ride and riverboat ride in Eureka Springs AR—have never been there are the right season for such!
  • Another pilgrimage to Branson MO—and no, I’m not riding the zip line—just viewing others do so will suffice!
  • One more pass at Natchez, MS, and the historic houses I missed the first time around
  • River cruise down the Mississippi River
  • Assorted cross-country trips on AMTRAK
  • Weekend stay in San Antonio on the River Walk
  • And finally—stand at the Tomb of the Unknown in Arlington National Cemetery

Compared to many, my list is rather modest—but then, what I want to do is what I want to do—not what others think should be done!

What’s on your bucket list?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

What's my dream job?

 Perhaps most writers would say they have attained their dream job—the freedom to perpetuate their fantasies on paper (or the computer, as the case may be). If one is retired—or is fortunate enough not to need a day job—perhaps that writer has indeed reached the pinnacle and attained his dream job.

Dreams singular or dreams plural?

I’m not sure I ever dreamed of becoming a writer—I just wrote. When I retired, then it seemed the time was right to make publication of said writing the actual dream. And, it came true. But...some people just aren’t ever satisfied! With a stack of books to my credit, what else could I want?

In the beginning…

When I was ten or so—just the age of my oldest granddaughter (otherwise known as the Small Person)--I wanted to be a lady detective! Years later, her father made detective status, leaving me in the dust. But the exciting news is—the Small Person and Mimi are editing her first book. Look for it soon!

The short list of old age

If I could do anything in the world—anything at all—it would be this: travel the world with my laptop (also known as Penelope) and park my aging carcass on beaches, mountaintops, lakes, front porches of forest cabins and historic hotels, balconies and verandas of resorts, outdoor patios of cozy coffee shops and cafes, and club cars of cross-country trains...and write short stories, books, and sending back a regular newspaper column for which I wouldn’t even care if I got paid or not!

The dream job in reality

What I really do on a regular basis is sit in my study at a second-hand desk or in my thrift store swivel rocker with, of course, Penelope, and write short stories, books, and blogs. (Unfortunately, no newspaper editor is beating down my door to acquire my paid (or unpaid) talents. Sometimes I check in at McDonald’s and take over a back booth or at San Francisco Bread Company in town. Sometimes I drive to one of the many lakes in this isolated community and beyond with chair, picnic lunch, and even a portable CD player and write as long as Penelope’s battery holds out. Less often, I travel as the budget allows and search out interesting venues for creativity.

So is the dream job in the future?

Probably not—unless I strike oil in the back yard or win the lottery—neither of which sounds like a real possibility. So, I’ll bloom where I’m planted...and just enjoy dreaming when real life isn’t keeping me busy!