Wednesday, December 25, 2013

In 2014, I resolve to be grateful.


When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free
.--Wendell Berry

Abundance awaits our notice each dawn. Its glory and wealth abides. It is ours for the taking if we but look up and outside ourselves. May we, as Wendell Berry advises, rest in the arms of this earth where the waters hold wood drakes, where the fish below feed the heron. Let us know the peace of still waters and hushed pastures as we lift our eyes to the mysterious stars.

Reading Challenge:

Read “The Peace of Wild Things” daily. Let his words teach you to see, hear, sniff, taste, and touch truth. Let his words teach you what to write.

May the new year be kind to you.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Holiday Hope

‘Tis the season for glowing, twinkling lights making rainbows across snowy banks as smooth as the finest fondant. ‘Tis the time to hear Mariah nail every note in all I want for Christmas is you and Bing croon I’ll be home where the lovelight gleams.

Fifth Avenue still dazzles and dizzies with satins and silks on display. At Rockefeller Center, children grow woozy trying to see the top of the mighty tree while below, ice skaters spin dreams of steaming cocoa to warm their core.

This is the inescapable season of joy and brotherhood, of Kwanzaa gratitude, Hanukkah miracles, and Christmas hope. ‘Tis the season to celebrate the promise of us, and authors have done so, offering fare to inspire the best in us.

One of the earliest tales that made me weep as a child is Han Christian Anderson’s “The Little Match Girl,” a story about deprivation, hunger, loneliness, and the smallest spark of love to light the way. I warn you, the tale is bleak. Reading it again, I cried again. I confess I cry every time I think of any child so forlorn, just on the other side of plenty and joy, never to be welcomed home without having sold her matches, no stranger’s door open to her either. The only hope for her new year is in an afterlife, warmer and more loving than this one.

Scrooge faces a similar cold, but it is one of his own making. He stands outside the warm circle of family and love because he has made money his lover and god. Like Beatrice beatifically blessing Dante, Marley intervenes to save poor Ebenezer, and in doing so, saves Tiny Tim and all of Bob Cratchit’s family from despair, loss, and want. Old Scrooge’s unspoken prayers are answered, and he lives in and for love.

Photo of a Holiday Treasure at Our House 2013. Photo by Al Griffin

Hollywood’s Christmas fare often employs both characters: a child suffering and a man in need of redemption. George Seaton used them in Miracle on 34th Street. Though well cared for with a home to call her own, little Susan Walker and her mother, Doris Walker, stand outside the warm Christmas circle wherein Santa delivers every dream and wish never uttered aloud. Doris was bruised by love and teaches her daughter to hold illusion, fairy tales, and all things fanciful in contempt. Kris Kringle and John Walker take the part of Beatrice and Marley. Their perfect faith and love save the girls from themselves, teaching them to believe in goodness, mercy, and magic.

Would that the little match girl had an angel or a Santa to save her. May no child endure this inescapable, ubiquitous season of hope without rescue. May every child receive the gift of love and a little something to keep her warm every other night of the coming year.

Reading Challenge:

Read “The Little Match Girl.” Then when your eyes are clear again, read A Christmas Carol. Breathe deeply of redemption and love, then brew a strong cup of tea and settle in to watch Miracle on 34th Street. When your smiles fade, spend 130 minutes with It’s a Wonderful Life. Carry those minutes into action. Give to others freely and generously as the people of Bedford Falls gave to George Bailey.

Writing Challenge:

Write a journal entry about It’s a Wonderful Life. How does it meet the Christmas archetypal standards of a character both in need of and redeemed by love?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Writers Listen, Too!

A recent post described the wonderful experience of listening to books, especially those read by the author, and the value of listening in honing personal writing skills. Last week’s post reminded writers to read widely and much. This week’s post returns to listening, but this time, to lyrics, the poetic songs accompanied by melody and instrument.

One song has always touched me, perhaps because of the wistful notes made tangible by the artist, Bonnie Raitt, as she sings “Wounded Heart by Jude Johnstone. Below are the song's lyrics portraying a love that endures but cannot conquer:

Wounded heart I cannot save you from yourself
Though I wanted to be brave, it never helped.
'Cause your trouble's like a flood raging through your veins
No amount of love's enough to end the pain

Tenderness and time can heal a right gone wrong,
But the anger that you feel goes on and on.
And it's not enough to know that I love you still
So I'll take my heart and go for I've had my fill

If you listen you can hear the angel's wings
Up above our heads so near they are hovering
Waiting to reach out for love when it falls apart
When it cannot rise above a wounded heart.

Tweens and teens yearn for a love of their own, and most imagine that love, when found, will bring with it unimaginable happiness and fulfillment. But these lyrics describe a love that continues apart from the beloved because no amount of love will overcome a wounded heart, flowing and ebbing with trouble like a flood .

This is the love that Catherine Earnshaw knows. No amount of love or concern was enough to end Heathcliff’s pain.

It is also the love that Cordelia feels for her father, Lear. He was deaf to her tender, honest words of love and regard for him. His raging troubles led to betrayal, humiliation, despair and madness. 

It is the love felt by every lover inextricably tied to a tortured soul: the Gandhis who must rescue an entire nation but cannot simultaneously be intimate; the Winnie Mandelas who must abide while the future inspiration for a people endures imprisoned; the Lee Krasners who rest uneasily beside a driven, alcoholic Jackson Pollock; the fictional Esther Blodgetts who cannot rescue the Norman Maines of this world. None of these loves fulfills both parties equally. None of them ends with both parties living happily ever after.

Johnstone/Raitt’s collaboration is a song of heartbreak and heartache, their cause a wounded heart. It is a song writers should know if they wish to tell of the full human experience.

Reading Challenge:

“Read” Bonnie Raitt’s album, Silver Lining, a release that includes "Wounded Heart."

Writing Challenge:

Write a story about a wounded heart.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Good Reading for Writers: The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison

Writers read because they learn the beauty of expression by studying and enjoying diction and syntax. They also read to enhance their understanding of the human experience, especially those experiences that hide just around the corner, out of our view, down shadowy alleys.

A. S. A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife (2013) is a wonderful read for writers who wish to peek around that corner, into the heart of a murderess and woman scorned with none of the Betty Broderick madness. We readers also bear witness to the carelessness that leads a man to his death. We learn about the collateral damage inflicted upon best friends and unborn heirs.

One paragraph may help you see the fertile ground that bears the fruit of insight:

She never saw the point in fighting with a man who was not going to reform. Acceptance is supposed to be a good thing--‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.’ Also compromise, as every couples therapist will tell you. But the cost was high--the damping of expectation, the dwindling of spirit, the resignation that comes to replace enthusiasm, the cynicism that supplants hope. The moldering that goes unnoticed and unchecked.

How many of us have marveled at the changes wrought by a relationship. I recall opening my refrigerator once after a love ended and realizing that nothing inside was my taste. I had completely shifted my buying habits, menus, and preferences. I had lost my own tastes in favor of another’s.

Harrison addresses that phenomenon, describing it as a subtle transformation whereby we smother expectations, allow our spirits to wither, settle for less than we desire, forsake hope. We perform in a masquerade at the end of which we cannot remove our costumes without endangering our identity and security in a relationship.

Thanks to Harrison and The Silent Wife for showing me how to speak about a thread in the tapestry of the human experience. 

Reading Challenge:

Read The Silent Wife.

Writing Challenge:

Select a passage from The Silent Wife and write about its insights.