Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Book I Recommend to Everyone

At the last meeting of my lovely book club we had a planned visit from a journalist from The Richard and Judy Book Club, a TV phenomenon doing in the UK what Oprah did for reading in the US. She talked to us generally about why we so enjoyed our book club, and asked each of us in turn which one book we would recommend to others. We were recorded for a podcast, so somewhere out there on the world wide web is a soundbyte of me explaining why everyone should read ...

The Chrysalids
John Wyndham

Now that was a really difficult decision. I love so many books! But The Chrysalids had a memorably powerful impression on me as a teenager, and an even stronger effect when I re-read it as an adult and finally understood that it's about the dangers of religious extremism and the aftermath of nuclear war.

I'm not saying that it was the best book I ever read, or even my very favourite, but it was the one which I felt was most profound, moving and timely as well as being superbly written. Sometimes you have to take all these extra things into account when choosing just one book. It's not always just about entertainment value.

If you had to recommend a book which everyone should read, which has the power to change society, which would you choose, and why?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Weathering the Storm

Sometimes it seems like life is one impressive storm after another. This week, as a huge storm (I've heard it called: Frankenstorm) approaches the eastern coast of our country, residents are doing the best that they can to batten down the hatches. Boards have been fastened over windows, services like subways, trains, and flights have been cancelled, businesses and schools have closed, and many people have been evacuated in preparation.

As I watched the news last night, various scenes flashed across the TV screen. One showed people inside of a store frantically shoving items like bottled water, canned goods, etc. into shopping carts. Another featured a stubborn resident who was refusing to leave the area, claiming he had nowhere to go and he wanted to protect his home. As such, he was busy loading up bags with sand from a nearby beach. Only time will tell if this was a wise decision.

A year after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, my husband and I spent two weeks in the area on a business trip. We saw firsthand some of the damage that can take place when a storm of this magnitude descends. Some images will always haunt me, like the flattened homes, others with numbers revealing how many were found dead and alive, and a cemetery with empty tombs--everything had washed out to sea.

It helped to see the determination to rebuild. Everywhere we looked, despite the overwhelming devastation that had taken place, people were stubbornly piecing their homes and businesses back together. Most had done this before, and they told us they would do so again if another storm came through.

Before our trip to New Orleans, I wondered why anyone would want to live in a place that is prone to massive storms. After spending two weeks exploring the area, I could see why. I fell in love with New Orleans and all it had to offer. It is a beautiful city, full of history, art, music, romance, and excellent cuisine. A seafood fan, I consumed some of the best shrimp, oysters, etc. that I've ever had the pleasure to sample during our stay in 'Nawlins. The Cajun spices appealed, although I did draw the line over the deep-fried blue crabs. Spiders are not my friends and in my opinion, those small crabs resembled deep-friend tarantulas. Just sayin' . . .

Regardless, I came away from Louisiana with a deep respect for those who have the courage to live in a storm-prone state. Their sense of culture, tradition, and endurance impressed me greatly. I have often thought of their resilience as I have faced storms in my own life.

We all experience storms during our adventure of a lifetime. Some are more like light mists that barely douse our lives. Others are of such scary magnitude, we want to run screaming the other way. I think what matters most is how we decide to confront these challenges. Do we run in a panicked circle exclaiming the sky is falling, or do we simply do our best to secure our foundation and weather the storm? It has been my experience that we often don't know how we'll react until the storm is on the horizon. That's when we discover our mettle, as my grandmother would call it--and often realize that we can shine the brightest when all around is dark.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Decision Time

Tuesday I took advantage of the call to vote early.  I'm glad I did.  That first week in November is going to be a medically rough one for me and this is one election I didn't want to miss, yet I left the polling place feeling a little sad.  It wasn't just that a group of seniors were eating their lunch a few feet from the polling place and the little voting station where I marked my electronic ballot was parked in front of the only access to the coat closet and people kept pushing me aside to reach their coats, or that the voting machine seemed to have a dying battery causing it to take long, long pauses before accepting the choices I pushed.  It just didn't feel the same. 

To me election day has always been a special day, a sort of national holiday where Americans join together to express our pride in being Americans.  There is a kind of prestige in wearing a sticker proclaiming "I voted!"  I like standing in line with friends and neighbors in a sort of camaraderie that proclaims "we're Americans and we know our duty!" 

I've had an interest in politics since I was a child and first spotted an "I like Ike" sign on the back of an old Hudson parked on our small town's Main street.  I've voted in every election since I was old enough to vote.  I've attended mass meetings and caucuses, held voting district and legislative district offices, been a delegate, worked as a page for the legislature, and as a reporter I got to meet many presidents, governors, and big name politicians.  I've worked on the campaigns of winners and losers.  However, this year I think the campaign has been too long and too negative.  I don't like the horrible ads sponsored by PACs and outside groups.  I'm glad it's winding down, but I feel more jittery and nervous about the results than usual.  It just seems there is so much at stake this time. 

In my early teens I had the opportunity to serve at a banquet where the governor of Idaho was the guest of honor.  I was thrilled to be assigned his table.  I noticed there was no butter on the table and hurried to remedy the situation.  Just as I approached his table with a tray of butter, a lady approached him from the other side.  He abruptly stood, bumped my tray, and the butter slid down the front of his suit. 

When Ronald Reagan was his party's nominee for President he visited Utah and I had the privilege of walking with him down that long hall at the Salt Palace and conducting him to the private banquet room where he was expected.  My husband and children were to meet me there and they arrived while we were strolling down that hall, he took the time to shake hands with each of them and laugh and talk with my family for a few minutes before we continued on.

Chosen as a delegate to a conference in Washington DC I was impressed by the charming, able young governor from a Southern state who emceed the main meetings.  Not many years later Bill Clinton was elected President. 

Most people don't follow politics as closely as I do and that's all right.  In this country you only have to be over eighteen and a citizen to vote, but it helps a great deal to be informed.  That includes taking most political ads with a grain of salt and ignoring the big mud slams of the last few weeks of a campaign.  And with all of the national hype, a voter might think picking the right presidential, senatorial, and representative are all that matter.  Important as these offices are, remember the positions closest to home often impact us the most.  Choose wisely and be sure to vote!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Isn't it About "Time?"

The other day someone asked me how things were going. I smiled and answered, "Well, I'm never bored." The reply to that response was: "Aren't you glad?" I've thought about that conversation this past week, and have decided that I am glad I'm not bored. It seems like every day there are so many things that I can try to accomplish--it's like a never-ending list.

I usually try to write in the early morning hours, since that is when my creative juices seem to flow. Then I dive in on the daily adventure which is often a combination of household chores, errands, etc.Though I manage to cross several items off these daily lists, I never quite finish up everything. There are moments when I sigh and wish there were three of me . . . but then again, perhaps there would be three times the amount of things to do. ;)

I do make an effort to attend most family events, since I believe those are the really important items in this life. And since my husband and I both belong to rather large family trees, it seems like there are always weddings, funerals, baptisms, graduations, and new babies to welcome into this mortal world, not to mention reunions, family camping adventures, holidays to celebrate, birthdays to commemorate, and so on.

Then there are crazy days like a Friday I experienced a couple of weeks ago. In that one day I helped my mother pick up the cases of canned food she wanted at the local case lot sale, sang at the local senior center for their weekly entertainment slot, endured a less-than-fun mammogram, entertained my mother-in-law who surprised us with a quick visit for part of the weekend, and cleaned out my abode for the arrival of family members from my side who were coming to hang out during Conference weekend. I'll admit, by the end of that day I fell sound asleep the moment my head hit the pillow. 

It seems like I experience erratic days like that at least once a week. But you know what, there are no regrets. I suspect when my allotted time is over on this mortal sphere, I will experience a tiny bit of satisfaction from knowing that I did my best to make the most out of each day. I may not have always succeeded . . . and there is the glitch I currently endure with having to slow down a bit here and there compliments of my less than cooperative body . . . but for the most part, I have tried to live this adventure of a lifetime with a bit of gusto. 

So, yes, I'm rarely bored, but this is a good thing. Though sometimes I long for a day when I can sit and vegetate, if I ever reach a point in my life when that is all I can do, I will probably not enjoy it much. But maybe even then, I will follow my mother's example, and come up with creative things to do to keep myself entertained. Isn't that part of why we're here--to see how we'll use the time we have been given during this probationary time? The good news is the belief that I have that this life is just the beginning. I believe that we'll have an eternity to continue polishing those talents, friendships, and interests that we've developed on earth. And if that is the case, I suspect I will never be bored--and that is a reason to celebrate. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Malala Yousufzai

There is a name that will forever denote courage for me. The name is that of a fourteen year old Pakistani girl, Malala Yousufzai. For years this young girl has been speaking out against the cruel dictates of the Taliban in her country--a group of insane radicals who will go to any length to impose their evil demagoguery on the population.

One of the things these radicals detest is girls getting an education. Years ago they closed down the school that Malala attended, and she spoke out. This brave young woman not only spoke out in her own community, but in the larger arena of the country of Pakistan. Many began to take notice. Of course, the Taliban also took notice and began issuing death threats against Malala and her family. Malala continued to speak out.

Several days ago, a group of masked and armed Taliban boarded Malala's school bus, and shot the young woman, once in the neck and once in the head.

Through nothing short of a miracle, Malala is still alive, though in critical condition.

Her courage makes me weep. I pray for her. I pray for the world to wake up and realize that there is evil in the world.

Dear Lord, give me the courage to follow Malala's example. Give me the courage to find my voice and speak up.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Art of Time Transitions

The past month or so I've really fallen down in the blogging department.  It's almost unbelievable how much time is consumed by the recuperating process.  Though my surgery went well and I'm healing pretty quickly considering I had a complete knee replacement, long hours of my days are consumed by physical therapy, ice treatments, and just plain feeling tired.  I'm not complaining; I know I'm way ahead of the usual healing curve for this type of surgery, but sometimes I feel like I've missed a lot. 

When I entered the hospital on September 17, almost a month ago, the days were hot and felt more like August than September.  I'm home now and suddenly it's October and I go around looking for a sweater to wear or an afghan to keep me from shivering.  Time seems to have taken a giant leap forward when I wasn't watching closely enough.  Sometimes I get that same feeling when I'm reading.  There's that whoa!  What happened?  How did I get from there to here? moment.   Unlike with real life, those moments leave me frantically thumbing backwards through the book to see what I missed. 

Time transitions including jumps in time are not easy to manage, but are often necessary to avoid tedious pages with little to do with the main story taking up space and time.  Getting characters from one point to another or one time to another can be challenging.  In my present work in progress (due out in February) the story covers a span of ten years and I've worried a great deal over whether or not readers will be able to follow the progression of time as I mean for them to do.  Only time and my readers will tell me whether or not I succeeded.  

Recently I read two books with significant time jumps.  One, by a well known author, left me thumbing backwards to see if I missed something several times.  The other by a friend, who doesn't claim to be a writer, but who wishes to record several family stories in a novel format for a Christmas gift moved flawlessly between the present and World War II.  I've no answer to why some writers struggle with moving between times while others do it almost instinctively.  I just know I like to be able to keep time in neat compartments when I read.  I like to know when the past is the past, when children are no longer children, when the action jumps ahead a few years, and when the action is already past.   

There are little clues that are helpful in this matter such as placing a time or date notation at the beginning of chapters, switching to different fonts to denote the different time periods, placing asterisks at the end of one scene and the beginning of the next or just skipping a space to alert the reader to a change in time, place, or point of view.  A few well chosen words can also prove helpful.

I sometimes wonder whether readers or other writers find books with long time progressions or jumps in time sometimes difficult to follow.  I'd love to discover which books you think are examples of dealing with this problem poorly or well.  I've received both kudos and complaints about my own books in the area of longish time progressions and would like to know what works and what doesn't. Though I've never written a book that presents two or more totally different time periods, I've read a number of them and haven't found many to my liking.  Currently there are at least two series underway by well-known and well-liked authors that tell two stories, one contemporary and one historical side-by-side.  I wonder what readers think of this method of storytelling.  Please share your views in the comments section. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

My Philosophy

With all the news about welfare, I loved this article with H. B. Zachry's philosophy of life: "I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon if I can. I seek opportunity - not security. I will refuse to be a kept citizen, to be humbled and dulled by having my state and nation look after me. I want to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed - never to be numbered among those weak and timid souls who have known neither victory or defeat. I know that happiness can come only from the inside through hard constructive work and sincere positive thinking. I know that I can get a measure of inner satisfaction from any job if I intelligently plan and courageously execute it. I know that if I put forth every iota of strength that I possess - physical, mental, spiritual - toward the accomplishment of a worthwhile task ere I fall exhausted by the wayside, the Unseen Hand will reach out and pull me through. Yes, I want to live dangerously, plan by procedures on the basis of calculated risks, to resolve the problems of everyday living into a measure of inner peace. I know if I know how to do all this, I will know how to live and, if I know how to live, I will know how to die." H. B. Zachry I'm printing this for my Laurel's on beautiful cardstock to give to them to post on their wall, and to my children and grandchildren. This was a wise man and I want to share his incredible philosophy and continue to use it in my life. Definitely a formula for happiness.