Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Ease of Some Things, The Difficulty of Others

I was invited last night to talk to the members of a local book club about Pursued: A Maggie McKenzie Mystery. Of course, I was delighted to go do that (even though I was totally exhausted from a long few days with my two youngest grandchildren.) There is something exhilarating - even rejuvenating about discussing something you love or something you've accomplished.

I promised my also exhausted husband that I would hurry home as quickly as possible so we could collapse in bed in a quiet house without having to listen for crying babies and get a good night's sleep. But, as it frequently happens, as soon as they began asking questions about the book, I completely forgot how tired I had been. It was a full two hours later that I returned home to my very weary husband (who had lovingly waited up for me.)

Contrast that pleasant experience with anticipating my turn to blog. I approach it with not just trepidation, but a blankness of mind. What subject might be of interest? What won't sound trite or foolish? How long will it take me because I have to rewrite it so many times to make it sound like I am actually literate?

Why isn't it as easy to write as it is to talk? I can talk forever on many subjects and actually make some sense. But shouldn't it be as easy to just write the things that I would say if I were having a conversation with a friend? I just sat and pondered this question for a few minutes, and decided that when we speak, it goes away rather quickly. In one ear and out the other, so to speak. But when we are writing, it is there - a record in black and white to be called up again and again or passed along to others - and who knows how many will see it?

And judge.

That is the root of the problem. The fear that we will be judged. I really don't want to be known as a blithering idiot. By my age, there is supposed to have been acquired a certain amount of wisdom and knowledge. Unfortunately, I'm not a witty person. I don't make people laugh with clever dialogue or witticisms. That leaves the opposite pole - being wise and knowledgeable. And lest at this point, I show my lack of either wisdom or knowledge, I will leave you to ponder these questions: Why do we fear what other people think? Why should it matter if we are secure in our knowledge of who we are? Why can't we just be ourselves and not worry over every word we write?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Off to Washington, DC

Today I leave my quiet little Utah home, and journey with my sister and two friends for the wilds of Washington, DC.

We are attending the Restoring Honor Rally on the steps of the Lincoln memorial. We will be four of many...many thousands of many, and I'm sure we'll spill down the steps and into the mall area surrounding the reflecting pool. Perhaps our numbers will be such that we'll reach the World War II Memorial and encompass the Vietnam Memorial. Perhaps our prayers and our voices will reach the White House and the chambers of the Congress. One can only hope.

We are going because we love this country. We are going peacefully, but with purpose. We are going to show that we, as individual Americans, are willing to strengthen our integrity, to make changes in our own financial responsibility, and to stand firm for the founding principles that made this country unique in the world.

We call out for our elected leaders to make the same commitment.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Vanity Publishing

I recently listened to a very interesting debate on the radio about self-publishing.

Years ago, self publishing used to be called Vanity publishing, and it was pretty much that - someone thought so much of themselves and their book that they would part with thousands of pounds to have it printed and then try to flog it themselves by hawking it round bookshops and calling in favours from polite friends and acquaintances. Apparently in these days of print-on-demand and Amazon things are very different and it is becoming quite acceptable to self publish, as well as much easier to marker your self-published book.

There was a contributor to the discussion who had self-published his book, had it fall into the hands of an influential journalist and subsequently been offered a £2.5 million deal for his next three books. Another had written a book called "The Father's Home Birth Handbook" which he had self-published; it sold very well and he was then offered royalties by a publisher who offered to reprint it. So I guess sometimes it can be OK. Sometimes. I still come down against it for several reasons.
  1. I have always taken the view that if my manuscript isn't good enough for a reputable publisher to offer to pay me for it, then it isn't good enough. What's the point of trying, researching, working hard to hone my skill and perfect my craft if any rubbish I write could be published?
  2. One of the contributors on the show - the managing director of a self-publishing company - admitted that they don't read the manuscripts they publish. I think that speaks volumes. Those books could be obscene, inflammatory, misleading or badly researched. There's enough of that on the internet without it appearing in print too.
  3. The public only have a certain amount of money to spend on books, and self-published dross dilutes the market.
  4. The book-buying public deserve the best; a book is an investment. As a teenager I bought a book by Rosemary Conley, my favourite fitness guru, only to discover when I read it that it was basically a rehash of her last book. Off I trotted to the shop to return it as unsuitable. Of course, I was told I couldn't return it. Innocently I asked why. "Because you might just have read it and be bringing it back," I was told. "I HAVE read it and it's no good," I replied. "That's why I'm bringing it back." That's when I learned the truth. If any other product or service is shoddy or substandard you can return it for a full refund. Not so books. That's why we need discerning agents and publishers to ensure that the books we buy are worth the price we pay for them.
  5. Yes, it's very difficult to get published. Yes, it's tough to have a manuscript you've worked hard on rejected. I know, I've been there many times. Even the best authors have a box full of rejection letters. But it's partly the fact that so few people succeed that makes it worth aiming for. These days we seem to be getting rather too politically correct about not letting people experience rejection. It's part of life - get over it. What would be the point of an Olympics where everyone got a medal, or where the losers said, "Never mind, I'm going to pay someone to make me a nice shiny gold medal anyway and that'll be just as good."
  6. Books enjoy a better reputation than the Internet. It used to be that in order to get a serious work of non-fiction published you had to show your publisher meticulous research and well-reasoned arguments. This, in turn, meant that books could, to some extent, be trusted to be accurate. I decry anything which leads to the printed work becoming untrustworthy and of less value.
  7. Publishers do far more than simply edit a book. I don't yet know the title of my next book because my publishers are choosing it, and I trust them to do so. They know the market, they have been able to cast fresh eyes on my book and although in this case they didn't edit it, I know that the input of a professional editor is invaluable. They also take care of the marketing - generally the most difficult part of the process.
  8. Call me old fashioned, but I like to be paid for my work. I don't pay someone for the privilege of sitting at my desk for five hours a day keeping databases up to date any more than I pay my neighbours to look through Avon brochures. If I do a good job, I expect to reap a financial reward, and writing is no different.
  9. I understand what it is to have such pride in your work that you want to see it in print. But if you've watched "America's Got Talent" you'll know that not everyone who thinks they are a great singer is correct. Humility involves accepting that your best is not as good as someone else's, and doesn't meet a required standard. It doesn't mean paying out to give your ego a boost.

So having said all that, I give you full permission to point, laugh and say "I told you so" when my Magnum Opus gets rejected everywhere and I resort to publishing it myself...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Service Soothes

This past week as I prepared a lesson for the YW in our ward, I came across some inspiring words about service. We all know that we feel better about things when we reach out to help others. The following quotes help explain why that is:

"When we are engaged in the service of our fellowmen, not only do our deeds assist them, but we put our own problems in a fresher perspective. When we concern ourselves more with others, there is less time to be concerned with ourselves! In the midst of of the miracle of serving, there is the promise of Jesus, that by losing ourselves, we find ourselves.

"Not only do we find ourselves in terms of acknowledging guidance in our lives but the more we serve our fellowmen in appropriate ways, the more substance there is to our soul. We become more significant individuals as we serve others. We become more substantive as we serve others--indeed, it is easier to find ourselves because there is more of us to find." (President Spencer W. Kimball)

Supposing today were your last day on earth,
The last mile of the journey you've trod;
After all of your struggles, how much are you worth,
How much can you take home to God?

Don't count as possessions your silver and gold,
Tomorrow you leave these behind,
And all that is yours to have and to hold
Is the service you've given mankind.

I fully believe in the miracle of service. When I'm hurting, or when life bogs me down, if I do something for someone else, the pain fades, and life seems brighter. It truly does bring joy into our lives when we serve others. That is part of how I survived my father's suicide death 27 years ago next month.

My adventure with the healing power of service began when I was asked to take dinner to an ill woman in our ward. Long story short, I didn't begin this task with the best attitude. Because of the nature of my father's death, I had been feeling like a non-person. Back then there was such a stigma attached to suicide, most people didn't know what to do or say. An example: one day as I walked down the aisle of the local grocery store, I spotted a friend of my parents. I offered a small smile, and saw the panicked look on her face as she whirled her cart around to head in the opposite direction. I would like to say that was a one time occurrence, but I can't. It was a difficult time, and while I tried to understand my sudden plunge into non-personhood, I struggled all the same.

Guilt kept me from declining when I was asked to take dinner into the sick woman's home two months after my father's death. As I angrily chopped up the vegetables for homemade clam chowder, I silently fumed over the unfairness of the situation. That all changed when I entered this woman's home later that day and saw for myself how ill she really was. She was so weak, she needed help to eat. Her home had been neglected because of her illness and while I was there I tidied things up a bit. As I drove home, a piece of the ice-burg developing inside my heart melted. The pain I was feeling lessened, and I realized I was onto something.

After that experience, I began looking for ways to serve others. The more I did for other people, the better I felt inside. It was one of the tools I used to heal from that deep loss. That lifeline saved me from becoming embittered. I will be forever grateful for the lesson learned.

Service does indeed soothe when hearts are shattered. It is a wonderful way to heal and to help those around us who are struggling---proof yet again that a wise and loving Father in heaven is at the helm, and that He knows best how to help us find joy in this troubled world.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Plot or Characters

Plot versus characters is a little like the old chicken and the egg question. To many readers It's not a matter of which comes first though, but which is more important. For me, plot might just have a little edge, but no matter how great the plot, I never am satisfied with a book peopled by crummy characters.

Plot is vital to me; I've never really enjoyed the kind of novel where the angst-filled protagonist flirts with insanity, struggles with some kind of mental complex, or grapples with depression if that is the main crux of the story. Many literary novels take a character and build an entire book around the character's inner emotional struggle. These same problems are fine character attributes if there's a plot to the story too. Other writers concentrate so heavily on action and plot twists, the characters are the same at the end as the beginning and the reader has no idea who they are. Many readers and writers seem to think a novel should be all action or all inner character development. The best novels in my opinion are those where the characters become real to the reader and grow and learn through the course or events of the story. One of the nicest compliments I ever received was from a reader who said when she finished reading When Tomorrow Comes she felt she should call up George and Jacey and invite them to dinner.

So how do we create characters that feel real? Some writers, including me, take a sheet of paper, put the character's name at the top, then list eye color, hair color, physical details such as height, weight, where and when the person was born, where went to school, employment record, parents, siblings, hobbies, likes, dislikes, and everything else that identifies that person. One romance writer who spoke at a conference I attended said she goes to a doll-maker who makes a doll from her description of her heroine and she keeps the doll on her desk while writing her story. Another says she hunts through magazines and clips out pictures that fit her idea of each character and tacks them to a board by her desk. The important things is a character must be firmly entrenched in the writer's mind if there is to be any hope of the character being real to the reader.

I commented once in a review that an author's heroine didn't feel real and she sent me an angry email telling me how real the character was because she was actually herself. I suspect she read much more into the actual words she wrote than her readers possibly could. Most writers, unless they're writing an autobiography, don't project themselves well into their novels because our characters seem to take on better or worse attributes than we actually possess. In one of my early books I thought I was using myself as a model for a character and wound up seriously wounding my ego as I got letters from several readers saying how much they loved the book, but they disliked that character.

Another conference speaker once advised the audience not to create "stupid heroines." I've always considered that good advice. She also said our heroines need to be strong in their own right and shouldn't have to be rescued by a "man or a miracle." More good advice. On the other hand, I dislike wimpy heroes who can't get anything right either.

It's possible to have the best characters in the world and still have a poor story. Something has to happen or there's no story. That something needs to place the protagonist or someone he/she cares about in danger, be a changing point in the main character's life, or in some way present a puzzle to be solved. There's a good reason why the major genres appeal to readers. It's because the characters are pitted against a major challenge they must defend against, outwit, or in some way overcome. In a well-written novel the reader identifies with the antagonist and pits her/his own reasoning and skills against the problem, gaining a sense of achievement as the problem is solved whether it's defeating the bad guys, planning a wedding, or moving forward with renewed purpose.

I freely admit I like a book with an intricate plot and strong characters. I read all kinds of books, but I prefer action and a well thought out plots whether the story takes place now or in the historical past. I've read and enjoyed some books in almost every genre, but I quickly become bored with mythical characters, unreal worlds, and magical potions, and the frenzied attempt some writers make to be meaner, bloodier, or more shocking than anyone else. Shock is not a substitute for plot. Whatever genre I pick up I want characters I can like and believe in and a problem with challenging twists and turns.

Okay, I've expressed my feelings about plot and characters, I'd like to know how other writers view these two important components of writing, and more importantly, I'd like to hear from readers about whether you consider plot and characters of equal importance or does one matter more than the other? Anyone who leaves a thoughtful comment will be included in the Wish List drawing on my blog

Monday, August 16, 2010

When You Don't Know What's Next

Last week I went to one of my favorite stores, Barnes & Noble, to get a birthday gift for my brother. While I was there, I found a small sale book ($5 is about what I can these days) from Ann Patchett (author of Bel Canto and several other books). The book was based on Patchett’s graduation speech to her alma mater, Sarah Lawrence. The title is What’s Next?

I remember the questions I used to get as a college student that really had no answer, which were variations of “What next?” What was I going to do with an English degree? I had the answer once upon a time. I was going to teach. Looking back, I’m grateful I had an answer for so many years, even if that answer wasn’t in fact, “the answer,” since after one year of teaching high school, I decided I wanted to do something else. So for a few years I worked different jobs and tried to figure out “What next?” Then, in one day, I had the answer, I was going back to school. It felt right and also good: it was completely paid for.

As a graduate student, the question came again, “What next?” and like the majority of students, I had no idea what I would do next. More college for a Ph.D. is a nice answer, but I didn’t think I wanted to do that. One friend finally asked in exasperation, “Do you even know what you’re doing?” Well, now, that question I had an answer to. I didn’t know what I was going to do NEXT, but I knew what I was doing right at that time. I was taking one step at a time, doing whatever was next in front of my face. An assignment, a work project, whatever needed to be done, that’s what I was doing.

In the 20 or so years since then I've had times when I knew both what I was doing and what I would be doing next; I’ve also had plenty of the other when I had no idea what I was going to do, what I should be doing, how I was going to support myself, what was next. Right now I have what I see as the luxury of knowing what I’m going to do from September to December. I have two classes to teach; the money isn’t fabulous but I can mostly live on it. After that, who knows? Maybe I’ll have a better idea as we get closer to December. Or maybe I’ll finish up and have no idea until January. In the meantime, I found some comfort from Ann Patchett’s experience (which included a lot of waitressing, even after she earned a graduate degree, which makes me feel better). She says:

Sometimes we don't realize what we've learned until we've already known it for a very long time.

Receiving an education is a little bit like a garden snake swallowing a chicken egg: it's in you but it takes a while to digest.

If you're trying to find out what's coming next, turn off everything you own that has an OFF switch and listen.

I guess it’s time to turn off my computer and listen for while. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Multigeneration Fun!

I love being a gramma! My spell check always flags that word, wanting me to put grandmother - which I'm not - or even grandma - but I'm really just a plain old gramma. My youngest grandchildren can say that word easily and it isn't as pretentious and formal as grandmother. So that is the moniker I choose.

All summer I've been playing with grandchildren. I've taken them to skating parks and applauded their blossoming skills on skate boards and razors, and bandaged scraped knees and elbows. Fortunately, we didn't have any broken bones while I was in charge. I've been drowned by squirt guns in the swimming pool, made innumerable batches of cookies, dished up gallons of ice cream, counted tokens from video games, and chauffeured countless miles. That's just one set of three grandsons. We also took two of them with us to Bear Lake to the family reunion and tried to keep them entertained on the long drive from California to Idaho - no small feat. Thank heaven for books on CD since my car isn't equipment with TV as theirs and my daughter's is. (C. S. Lewis, thank you for your incredible imagination!) They laughed when I fell off the jet ski and begged me to take another picture of their magnificent sand castle to show their parents.

Two weeks ago, I went to the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana with my two youngest grandchildren and their parents to see a Silk Road Exhibit, complete with mummies and lots of fun artifacts. Five-year-old Violet was entranced with the little girl mummy, and the jewelry and things found with her. Nineteen-month-old Julian liked the Fu Dogs at the entrance to the China exhibit much better. He pointed and babbled and laughed, and was very good as long as I was pushing him. I think I got in about 1000 steps that day keeping him entertained in his stroller while his parents actually saw the exhibit.

The first weekend in August, Violet, Julian and their Mom met me and my Las Vegas daughter and her four kids at the Getty Villa Museum in Malibu where we spent two hours enjoying the incredible treasures J. Paul Getty collected. The Family Forum room was so entertaining and educational the kids didn't want to leave. Then we hit the beach. Tailgate picnic, collecting rocks and seas shells, running in the surf (I didn't join my 14-year-old grandson body surfing this time - the water was FREEZING!)

This week, I drove to Las Vegas, spent the rest of Wednesday helping my daughter hang all her certificates and memorabilia on her wall, mending, remodelling some clothes for the kids. Thursday we drove to Cedar City and took in a Shakespeare play while the kids did the movies. We all went swimming at our hotel, walked a mile to eat, walked back to the Festival and laughed till we were exhausted at "39 Steps." Who'd have thought they could turn that Hitchcock mystery into something almost slapstick? It was pure delight.

We walked back to our hotel in the dark and talked about the play, about the funny things in the shop windows, and plans for tomorrow. My almost-8-year-old granddaughter slept with me in my king-sized bed and managed to end up finding me clear on the other side of the bed and snuggling with me before the night was over.

Why do I tell you all this inconsequential "stuff" of my summer? Because, first of all, it was tremendous fun for me. And second, I believe it is extremely important to stay connected to the next generations. I remember my grandmother. I knew she loved me more than my own mom at times (or so it seemed.) After all, she didn't have to discipline me. She could just love me.

I believe all children need to know there are other people in this world that love them as much as their parents. I believe that we have gained much insight in our many years on the earth that can help those of the younger generation see things in a different, maybe more positive light. I believe it is our privilege and responsibility to pass on some wisdom we've acquired that they might not experience for many more years.

I tended my three grandsons for a week while their parents celebrated their 20th anniversary. The 15-year-old pressed-to-test a couple of times, wanting more freedom than I knew he should have. It could have gotten sticky if we hadn't already established a great rapport during the years. But he knew how much I loved him, and we made a couple of compromises that kept us both happy. He will probably get to the point where coming to gramma's isn't the cool thing to do, but until then, we enjoy each other. (By the way, Rat-A-Tat Cat is the most fun game for kids!)

During all those hours and days I've spent with my grandchildren this summer, I've been able to interact with each one individually. At the museums, I've told stories about the man who carved the statue we were observing, or pointed out something I knew this particular grandchildren was interested in that they had missed. Their moms can't answer all their questions all the time, and if we divide the group, we can give them a more personal view of what they are seeing.

At the play, I kept whispering quietly to my granddaughter the Hitchcock titles that were visual jokes, explaining why black birds were falling out of the sky, (The Birds) or someone climbing a high ladder was terribly afraid (Vertigo) or why a bi-plane was straffing the character (North by Northwest).

I ask lots of questions about their interests so when I run across something they like or that fascinates them, I can send it to them, or call them to talk about it. We can stay connected.

I truly believe grandparents can make a tremendous difference in the lives of their grandchildren simply by being interested. One of our granddaughters is graduating from high school in the spring. She has lots of decisions to make. We can help guide these young people so they don't have to make all the mistakes we made.

And besides, there isn't anything that compares with having one of them throw their arms around your neck (or legs) and say, "Gramma, I love you!" It just doesn't get any better than that.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Bicycle

On Tuesday, I bought myself a new bicycle. It's butter yellow and looks like a bike from the 50's--a retro cruiser bike! It's beautiful. I don't normally buy things for myself. I purchase clothes when the need arises, shoes when things catch my eye, and jewelry...never. But, this bike called out to me. Sitting in front of the bike shop with a dozen other bikes waiting eagerly for owners. They resembled puppies in a pet store whining at passersby to "pick me, pick me."

The shop owner approaches quietly, not wanting to disturb my reverential inspection. "It rides like a dream," he says finally. "Want to try it out?"

Do I want to try it out? Of course I do!

He unlocks the security chain and I hand him my purse and parcels. As I push off into the parking lot, I feel foolish. I'm a bit past middle age and this isn't 19th century England where genteel school teachers go peddling the countryside unnoticed. This is a 21st century strip mall parking lot with gawking customers getting sensibly into cars and SUV's.

Interestingly, the moment I pick up speed and the wind hits my face, I don't care a fig about appearances or propriety. I'm young again in my bib overalls and Mary Jane's, piggy tail braids flapping in the breeze as I fly down the hill on my cobalt blue Schwinn.

I return to the shop owner, take out my credit card, and buy my butter yellow bicycle (which turns out to be very reasonably priced). I chuckle at myself for not checking earlier, but actually, I don't care how much it costs. I would have been willing to pay a bundle. After all, what price is bliss?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Youth Conference

My youngest son was asked to be a speaker at a devotional for our youth conference this year.

As a mother, I am quite proud of the way he gathered his thoughts together as he tried to speak on how the theme of the conference can help him in his life. So, I have taken the liberty to ask him to be a guest blogger and share with us the theme for youth conference and also share with us his thoughts (and his talk) that he gave. So, introducing, my youngest son, Bryan:

This year’s theme is, “Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid, neither be dismayed. For the Lord thy God is with thee wherever thou goest”

This theme can be a big help in my life because of the challenges I have.
I’ve had three brain surgeries because I have seizures. At one point in my life, I was having up to twenty seven seizures a day and who knows how many at night. Even after taking medication to slow them down, it was unsuccessful, so it was decided our only option was surgery.

These surgeries have made it difficult for me to explain what I think and how I feel. It’s also difficult for me to understand language skills. So learning and reading is a real challenge for me.

One surgery caused me to have a stroke. This affected my balance so playing sports is pretty difficult. To top it off, I still have seizures, but not as many as I used to.

My challenges can be discouraging at times and I don’t always feel like I fit in.

I have a motto whenever I have to face challenges or problems and that is to, “Face your fears.” I say that to myself and then I say a prayer to my Heavenly Father. I know He will give me the courage I need to overcome my fears and face my challenge head on. At those times He always sends me comfort and strength.

I have also been given Priesthood Blessings. I have seen what the power of the Priesthood can do. I have seen miracles in my life because of those blessings.

I know I have my trials. I have had these challenges my whole life. But I also know that my Heavenly Father is there to help me with my challenges. I believe he hurts when I hurt and he is there to lift me up when I need him the most. I know he has been there throughout my life. I am so grateful to him and I love him for helping me and blessing me through my challenges and trials.

I know he will do the same for each of you, because he loves you too.

Monday, August 9, 2010

In Praise of Book Clubs

I went to a book club last night with a friend who invited me along at the last minute. I met some great people, made some new friends, and got some tips about good books to look out for.

The book club seems to be a relatively new social phenomenon. Here in the UK it is largely connected with popular TV couple Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan who added a book club spot to their daytime talk show, sending sales of the books they recommended into the stratosphere. But even before Richard and Judy picked up the baton and ran with it, book clubs were springing up all over the place.

When I was a student doing my degree in English literature book clubs didn't exist which was a pity because I'd have loved to meet up with others as enthused and eager about Vanity Fair and Tess of the D'Urbervilles as I was. Instead my appreciation of these books was tempered by dry tutorials, long lectures, and essays which analysed all the magic out of them.

The book assigned for September's meeting of the club I just joined is Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger which is, I am told, on sale in Sainsbury's for £3. That's $4.50. It probably helps that we don't have sales tax on books, but this is still a wonderful price when I factor in the hours of pleasure (assuming it's a good book) it will give me, not least of which will be the two hours spent eating cake and chatting about it at the book club. But despite a book club being a cheap form of entertainment (compared with, say, a restaurant meal or a cinema ticket) I don't think it's price alone which is making it such a popular social custom. For one thing, the rise of the book club predates the global recession even if it, annoyling, postdates my degree course.

Book clubs are great for authors too. If there are, say, ten people at a book club and they happen to choose your book for the reading list, you're going to sell ten extra copies. Just the fact that these clubs are getting people reading again, going into bookshops and recommending books to their friends is great news for those of us who scratch out a living writing those books.

My next book comes out later this year, and my publishers have asked that I include questions for book clubs to consider at the end of the book. I really enjoyed coming up with the questions; it gave me an opportunity to think analytically about the characters and plot, and I think it very much improved my understanding of my own manuscript.

I'm not really seeing any down side to a book club here. It sells more books, it gets people together to have fun and appreciate literature, it even helps writers with their craft. So if you're not a member of a book club already, I can highly recommend it, and if you are a member, I salute you!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I Don't Get It

I don't get it. I never have. What is the motivation behind petty, mean actions? Sure I understand theft, revenge, and a host of other crimes, but why does anyone do petty, mean things from which they gain nothing, aren't around to gloat over the victim's reaction, and prove nothing but their own moronic mentality?

Several people I know have had their Facebook accounts hacked and an insulting message has gone out to their friends, including young children, along with a link. The message is stupid and the link usually turns out to be a pornographic site. Vandals break out car windows; a nut job fires BB pellets from an overpass, beer cans are tossed on a church lawn, gravestones are overturned, and when we first moved to our present home we planted a thousand dollars worth of trees in the median strip only to have someone run over all those new trees with a truck, destroying them all. Graffiti is a constant, senseless destruction of property all across our country from which no one gains anything and our beautiful country becomes less beautiful.

This problem extends beyond vandalism. Just take a look at the comment trail on news stories. Those comments are riddled with hateful, mean insults. Bloggers often have to remove comments that are crude, mean-spirited, or outright obscene in their comment trails. Few writers have been spared rude, derogatory, unhelpful comments concerning their work. Honest constructive criticism is not the same thing as mean, hurtful insults.

Politics has raised the art of lies, half truths, and insults to a level that has turned off too many citizens from the political arena and destroyed trust in our government. Mean, negative campaigns often deprive citizens of the best representation and wastes millions of dollars. Time is wasted too as candidates and supporters spend their time smearing each other or refuting the other's claims instead of dealing with real issues.

Almost all countries with some form of democratic government are facing immigration problems at the present time. Instead of working out solutions to real problems such as religious freedom, employment, education, upward economic mobility, drugs, security, etc., many people resort to petty name calling, broad racial generalizations, hateful actions, and a lot of shouting that only serves to divide people and delay solutions.

It's easy to blame easy access to electronic media and its faceless nature for much of today's disregard for manners and the feelings of others, but Facebook and other social networks, comment trails, and other electronic media don't deserve all of the blame. Vandals broke into and trashed homes while the owners were away, rioters burned and looted their own neighborhoods, politicians lied about their opponents, and punks shot up traffic signs long before Blackberries, iphones, and computers made relationships impersonal. Today's electronic gizmos merely make being obnoxious easier.

We can blame society, poor parenting, lack of religious training, too much idle time, unsupervised computer access, or even some kind of genetic defect for the insane urge some people seem to have to hurt or destroy. There are probably mental or emotional reasons why some people have an urge to hurt, destroy, or deface. They may all be valid causes. I don't know. I just know I don't get it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

More on Patience

Lynn and I were on the same wavelength since I was thinking of exactly the same thing she posted on. This stage of my life is a bit perplexing to me (okay, it’s downright frustrating), and I try to remind myself daily that the things I can’t do shouldn’t keep me from doing the things I can do. It’s trying to move beyond a passive waiting sort of patience to an active, doing all I can patience.

Years ago I wanted something very badly and couldn’t do anything but wait. What I wanted was guaranteed, but I had to wait (okay, it was my mission—my bishop wanted me to wait until I was almost 21 before I put in my papers.) By chance I was able to watch Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s BYU fireside on patience and it helped.

Some time later, I had what I wanted and found out it was much for difficult than I had imagined. (Yes, it was my mission.) Elder Maxwell’s talk on patience appeared in the Ensign, and once again it helped.

Over the years I have read and reread his talk and when Elder Uchdorf spoke in conference, as Lynn mentioned in her blog, once again, I needed to hear what was said. It reminded me of things I had sort of learned from Elder Maxwell’s talk but needed to learn again and keep working on. Since it was so many years ago, I thought I’d pass along some of his words.

First (this is for Lynn’s benefit), Elder Maxwell said he spoke of patience because of his own “clear and continuing need to develop” this attribute. So, Lynn, you’re in excellent company! I can imagine Elder Maxwell, and other fantastic people, feeling frustrated with technology and with people who are just dawdling along, unable to get their act together.

Patience, he says, is “not only a companion of faith but is also a friend to free agency. Inside our impatience there is sometimes an ugly reality: We are plainly irritated and inconvenienced by the need to make allowance for the free agency of others.” Our lives, as well as our individual differences and preferences, are so enmeshed with each other that the only way to preserve our free agency is to be patient and longsuffering with each other.

Patience is reverence, a willingness to watch the unfolding purposes of God with a sense of wonder and awe, rather than pacing up and down impatiently waiting for Him to see things our way. When we are impatient, we are neither reverential nor reflective because we are too aware of our own desires and needs.

“Patience helps us to use, rather than to protest, these seeming flat periods of life, becoming filled with quiet wonder over the past and with anticipation for that which may lie ahead, instead of demeaning the particular flatness through which we may be passing at the time….Life cannot be made up all of kettledrums and crashing cymbals. There must be some flutes and violins.”

Patience allows us to ponder and to discern the things that matter most from the things that matter least. It also helps us to realize that while we may be ready to move on, having had enough of a particular learning experience, our continued presence is often needed as a part of the learning environment of others. Patience is thus connected with love and humility, both qualities that we are here on earth to learn.

I liked school. I liked it so much I considered myself a member of that group of “eternal students.” Well, to quote another talk from general conference, by Russell Osguthorpe, teaching and learning are not optional activities in our Father’s kingdom. We’re here to learn and help others learn. The fact that our lessons seems to be getting more difficult shouldn’t surprise us; it just means our education is progressing and we’re growing, according to His plan.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


On Friday, I dutifully began composing my post. I'd been corresponding by e-mail with an aspiring writer. I thought his questions were pretty common if one is contemplating writing a book, so thought if I addressed his questions, it would be an opportunity to reach a wider audience and offer some needed help to other aspiring authors.

I copied his questions, asked over a period of several weeks, into a Microsoft document, then pasted them into this blog, and proceeded to answer them. It was a lengthy proposition and took me probably an hour and a half or more to complete. I was anxious to get back to painting my bedroom, and be through with this obligation. When I clicked the Publish Post icon, the whole thing scrambled into that mass of computer gibberish that is symbols and letters and almost unreadable. Oh the angst and anguish. I had just wasted all that precious time when I could have been working in my bedroom and getting it back together!

I copied the whole mess, pasted it into my Microsoft Word and figured I'd try later to recover it, and went back to painting. But as I painted, I thought what a headache it would be to do that and how much easier to just skip the whole thing. But I had already missed my turn two weeks ago as I was out of town, so twice in a row would be unacceptable. And the thread on the Goosefeathers was on the angst of writing blogs, so I absolutely could not "drop out" at this at point.

Saturday morning I agonized about how to recover what I considered to be a worthy and informative effort, then worked on making curtains instead of writing. At 11:00, right in the middle of the morning and my efforts at getting my bedroom back together so we could sleep there, my husband had a call - a sister in the ward was moving today and wasn't packed, but would he please take the ball and run with it, getting her moved out of her apartment into a home on the other side of town with her son, who, by the way, wasn't helping at all.

My husband hung up the phone and stood dazed shaking his head. When he explained what had happened, I called a couple of sisters and asked them to meet me at her apartment in 15 minutes and we'd pack her. My husband could round up some brethren with trucks and come a little later and start loading. It worked. He found one couple with a pickup and willingness to come and help. Five hours later we returned home totally exhausted, dehydrated, and hardly able to climb into the hot tub to ease our aching bodies. (You have to remember that we each saw our 70th birthday a couple of years ago.)

For my scripture study yesterday, I had re-read President Uchtdorf's conference message on patience and as the soothing waters bubbled around my aching limbs, I thought of a couple of paragraphs that seemed pertinent to my frustrating blog experience and my exasperation at people who simply cannot get organized in their lives.

"Impatience is a sympton of selfishness. It is a trait of the self-absorbed." I wanted to be done with that blog! I wanted this lady to take the responsibility of packing her own boxes and arranging for the move a few days ahead of time, instead of just calling and saying "Come and do this for me."

President Uchtdorf said, "Patience is far more than simply waiting for something to happen - patience requires actively working toward worthwhile goals and not getting discouraged when results don't appear instantly or without effort." Definitely referring to my blogging disaster.

"Patience is a purifying process that refines understanding, deepens happiness, focuses action, and offers hope for peace. . . As the Lord is patient with us, let us be patient with those we serve. Understand that they, like us, are imperfect. They, like us, make mistakes. They, like us, want others to give them the benefit of the doubt. "

Okay - I understand that this sister is dependent on others for almost everything, and I should not have been surprised by this development. So my understanding is refined, and I do want others to be patient with my mistakes and give me the benefit of the doubt.

So forgive me for being late with my blog, and I forgive her for springing the move on us in the middle of a very busy Saturday. I'm going to print the following quote and put one by my computer and another by the telephone:

"Patience is a godly attribute that can heal souls, unlock treasures of knowledge and understanding, and transform ordinary men and women into saints and angels. Patience is truly a fruit of the Spirit."

Since I'm working on becoming a saint, I think this will be an important key in that process.That and the rest of his talk on patience. :)