Saturday, July 29, 2006

Comment from across the pond.....

No, not just any pond, THE pond. Today I received comment on Grandma's book from a reader in the UK. Since I call these folks my "Britbunny pals" they just might be a bit prejudiced in my favor. I call the male half of the Britbunnies "our gallant knight." He had this to say about the book:

The good times at the beginning were brilliant.
The chapter "Decoration day", very poignant It's a pity we do not have that special day over here.
Esther Clara was quite a woman.
Husband Herb was a very good and kind man.
As a pair, they set a good example to the rest of us, as we should be living our lives today!
The best book I've read in a long time!

You know how we writers are. We treasure such kind words about the work we've poured our life's blood into. So thank you dear gallant knight, for the review. I'll treasure it.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Dreams and Regrets

One of the chapters in My Name is Esther Clara is "Dreams and Regrets." In that chapter, my 90-year-old Grandma reminisces about the small dreams that came true and her regrets about the ones that didn't. The dreams she and Grandpa transformed to reality were small ones, but life-enriching in ways meaningful to them:
  • they hoped to own their own home and finally fulfilled that dream after 29 years of marriage. Home ownership, in their eyes, measured their success as a couple;
  • Grandma wanted a modern automatic washer and dryer so Grandpa saved his money and finally bought her the best they could afford;
  • Grandpa had dreamed of seeing the ocean since he was a young lad feeding his imagination through books. One year during a trip to Pennsylvania, their son took them to the Atlantic shore so Grandpa got to roll his pants legs up and wade the waters he had dreamed of all his life.

The regrets Grandma contemplated were dreams left unpursued for one reason or another:

  • after retirement, Grandpa wanted to take her to Hawaii as the honeymoon they never had. Grandma said no, because she feared leaving the continental U.S. and also thought they were too old;
  • Grandpa loved caves and dreamed of visiting Carlsbad Caverns. By the time they could afford such a trip, Grandpa's vision had failed and Grandma's practical side prevailed.

Most people I know are just like Grandma and Grandpa, postponing their dreams until they have more money or time. Hopes, dreams, plans are put on hold until retirement, until the kids get through college or the house is paid off. There's no sin in being practical, but life is short and sometimes we face a hard row to hoe from cradle to grave. Our dreams are the flavoring that makes hard times palatable. Grandma saw that clearly near the end of her long life.

So what are your dreams, large or small? Like Grandpa, I've always wanted to experience the ocean. So what's stopping me? I've dreamed of owning a home that would be ideal for a writer's retreat? Why didn't I follow through? If my dreams don't come true, should I blame lack of time, money, planning, vision, courage? I wonder what Grandma's answer would be to that question.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Rain and Tom Parker

This is a good day. After a week of temperatures in the high 90s and low 100s that baked every living thing to toast, a cool front has arrived with soaking rains. So far this morning I've watched robins, blue jays, cardinals and meadowlarks splash and frolic in the yard, fluffing their feathers and singing joyfully as the dry earth cools and softens. Trees raise their branches to the rain, sighing a collective relief. Brown grass is greening as I write. The scent of rain-washed air drifts through my window on a stirring breeze. Yes, this is a very good day, indeed.

Today is a gift in more ways than one. While checking the blogs I regularly read, I discovered Tom Parker's "Dispatches from Kansas" had TWO new postings. Any new offering by Parker is Literary Nirvana and two is a bonus! So with the sound of gentle rain dripping outside my window, I read Parker's poignant tributes to two old friends: one a man who served his community with a cheerful energy all his life, the other an ancient cottonwood whose shade had sheltered humans and animals for untold centuries. (I couldn't help but imagine how many droughts, healing rains, blizzards, and tornadoes that old tree survived in its lifetime.)

Anyone reading my blog needs to hop on over and read Parker's "Dispatches from Kansas." A link to his site is on my blogroll. Discovering the people, places, and things of rural Kansas through his eyes is a treat akin to a ghastly summer drought relieved by rain.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Nurses, Writers, and human nature

Back in the early 1960s when I was an impressionable young nursing student, one of our instructors made a dire prediction. Petite, feisty, and outspoken, fire blazed in her eyes as she stalked the aisles of our packed classrooom, tossing a stub of chalk from one hand to another. Her words are as fresh in my mind today as they were more than 40 years ago.

"Before you reach my age, you'll see the beginnings of a nursing shortage in this country. It's inevitable."

None of us believed her, and thought her classroom teaching had veered off in the wrong direction. She'd been a young nurse during W.W. 2 and then Korea. Nursing schools in my home state still reaped the benefits of those war years, with classes bursting at the seams and quotas exceeded to the point that prospective students had to be turned away. I watched her eyes spark, watched that bit of chalk traverse an arc from hand to hand.

"Those shortages are bound to happen because nurses have a bad habit of eating their young. In this class, you're gonna learn not to do that or I'll die trying."

Eat their young? What the hell does that mean? She read our collective thoughts that first day and laughed, with very little humor in the sound of it.

"Older nurses will try to figuratively eat YOU and I will just be DAMNED if that is gonna happen!" She saw the furtive looks that passed between us while we wondered if she might be crazy and paused a couple beats before continuing in a softer, sadder voice. "OK. Here's what I mean. You've worked the floor for several weeks now. How many welcomed you with open arms?"

None for most. Only a couple in my recollection.

"How many tried to orient you to meds and treatments in any meaningful way?"

Again, none or maybe one was the class concensus.

"How many slept and left you on your own at night? Complained about your ignorance behind your back and joked about 'baby sitting students' just loud enough for you to hear? Ridiculed your nursing documentation and lack of knowledge about charting?"

She watched the light dawn as our minds ran through the weeks of floor assignments. I could think of two helpful staff members. One was my aunt, a nurse, the other an intern who welcomed any set of hands available in holding death or disease at bay.

"That's what I mean by 'eating their young.' If they don't make positive contributions in helping mold students into accomplished nurses, if they tease and ridicule and gripe instead of teaching in positive ways, I call that 'eating their young.' That isn't gonna happen on my watch!"

That instructor taught us, one scenario at a time, how NOT to be discouraged when older nurses put us down. She taught us how to find the information we needed to enhance our classroom education, how to gain experience and strength from every patient in our care. And most important of all, she provided step-by-step guidelines to prevent her students from eating their young when they became Registered Nurses. The philosophy she shared was simple: Do for others what you hope others will do for you. Have patience. Be kind. Make suggestions. Teach by example. Nurture. Help others become the best they can be.

Her prediction came true. There HAS BEEN a nursing shortage in our country. I often wonder if the nursing shortages in this nation have a bit to do with that long-standing human tendency to gripe and complain about others instead of nurturning.

Forty years passed and I moved from nursing to writing. That nursing instructor's words seemed appropriate for writers, also. I thought writing might be different, that writers might not eat their young, but it isn't. A few writers DO nurture and support their colleagues in many ways, are kindly and encouraging. Others publicly shame and slam inexperienced or unknown writers, zeroing in on every typo and tense shift with gusto. You can read such slams on message boards, on amazon, and a multitude of places around the web.

Granted, maybe losing a few writers through discouragement, slamming, and shunning can't be compared to losing nurses. Nurses, when they are at their best, benefit humanity. They labor selflessly in obscurity, saving lives and easing pain. But what of art, the miracle of words? What if the work of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, the Brownings, Cather, Camus, Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Morrison, Wiesel had been shunned and ridiculed out of existence before it gave voice to their times? Would that be a loss to humanity?

Monday, July 10, 2006

A birthday for Esther Clara's husband

July 11 is my maternal grandfather's birthday. Herb Ford was born in 1892 and died in 1981 and let no grass grow under his feet at any point in between. Shown here with his great-grandson Kevin, Grandpa's face reflects his mischievous and playful side. Grandma often said he had a streak of mischief in him a mile wide. He liked to gently tease and play with his grandchildren and great grandchildren, making up for lost opportunities and the years of hard work that occupied his time and energy when his own kids were small.

Grandpa was 50 years old when I was born, no longer young, but youthful. Until his death he was the dominant male figure in my life. His philosophy of life influenced my personality and behaviors from birth through young adulthood. His own life had been one of hard work and struggle. Such a life is all he'd ever known. But he enjoyed the small happinesses of life with a childlike optimism. He looked forward to Grandma's fried chicken on Sunday with as much anticipation as he did Christmas. Ice cream and cake on his birthday was a major event. His dreams and needs were simple ones, easily fulfilled and always accepted with twinkling eyes.

The day before Grandpa died, Grandma baked one of his favorite treats -- Bulgur wheat bread. He waited patiently, as usual, for the first loaf to come out of the oven so he could lather a thick warm chunk of fresh bread with butter. Late that afternoon before suppertime, he delivered a loaf of Bulgur bread to my door, all smiles, saying he'd already "tried it on for size and it was some of Grandma's best yet." The next day after breakfast, unexpectedly, he was gone.

Now I don't mean this post to be pitiful in any way. Grandpa got his wish for old age and its inevitable date with death. He still got around on his own two legs, still enjoyed his eats with gusto, and did not have to linger in a nursing home. He exited life happy and content, with a tummy full of Grandma's delicious Bulgur bread.

If he happens to be hanging around in the invisible realm, I just want to say, "Happy Birthday, Grandpa!"

Friday, July 07, 2006

A Moveable Feast

Readers who know I'm a writer may find this hard to believe, but I'm not all that familiar with the work of Hemingway. In my high school years, The Old Man and the Sea was required reading, but most of what I remember of the story comes from the movie of the same name. I've always been a voracious reader, since early childhood. Certain books and authors made a lasting impression on me: Mazo de la Roche; Gene Stratton Porter; Colleen McCullough; D.H. Lawrence. But Hemingway did not make my preferred reading list. Ditto Faulkner, Camus, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. That brings me back to the main topic, which is
A Moveable Feast by Hemingway.

I had preconceived notions of Hemingway's writings, based on nothing, really. Assumptions I guess. I'm not a fan of terse prose, of which I assumed Hemingway was master. His mystique was lost on me. Author Michael Corrigan strives mightily to expand my horizons as a reader so finally convinced me to read either A Moveable Feast or The Sun Also Rises. I chose the former because it entails Hemingway's memories of Paris in his early years with first wife Hadley, before the fame, before the subsequent wives. Paris in the 1920s appealed to me.

What I discovered was not terse, dry prose at all, but words carefully chosen and lovingly crafted. Through Hemingway's eyes, I found the true essence of Paris as it was in that time and will never be again. In his day, an expatriate in Paris could live on five dollars a day and still have the money to travel. At his side, I walked the streets he loved and saw them as he did -- the trees and parks, quais and bistros, shabby flats. And I participated in intimate conversations with 20th century literary icons, laughed at the oddities of personality, empathized with their doubts.

Critics have called A Moveable Feast an irreverent portrait of such literary icons as Stein, Fitzgerald, and Ford Madox Ford. I found these portraits to be anything but irreverent. In fact, Hemingway's depth of compassion for dysfunctional friends and peers amazed me. In most cases he empathized, sympathized, made allowances and gentle observations in his recollections. And always, he focused on improving his own writing without envying the successes of his peers. Only the very rich were roasted. He spared the rich nothing in his memories of traveling and enjoying life on a shoestring. Hemingway believed the very rich ruined pristine places for common travelers, and robbed people of their innocent pleasures through wickedness and excess.

So hmmmm. Hemingway was not the man or writer I expected him to be. I can see now why his persona was so appealing to a generation of readers and why so many writers wish to emulate his sparcity of prose. I can't decide which Hemingway book to read next, but am leaning towards For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Sometimes the old classics said it best.....

The World is too Much With Us; Late and Soon by William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

My apologies to Mr. Wordsworth for not quoting his fine poem in its entirety. Those of you who are poetically inclined may find it strange, as I do, that the words of this poem are as appropriate today -- perhaps more so -- as they were 200 years ago. It's the small things that get me down until the world is too much with me, flaws in my everyday world. The flaws that throw my spirit out of tune are nothing in the grand scheme of things, but enlarge incrementally until they're all I can see.

For example, we live in a small town of roughly 4,000 people. A copper-domed court house dominates its central square with dignity. Raised sidewalks, a holdover from the horse and buggy days, set apart the downtown area from others of its size. Stately shade trees line brick streets laid in another century. All roads leading into town pass wheatfields, cornfields, rolling pastureland, or milo fields. Clumps of cottonwoods, elm, and oak line creeks and rivers. Charming.

Unfortunately, this town boasts a larger feral cat population than human. Cats live in the storm drains, in sheds and garages if they can find entry, in and under every sort of shelter imaginable, such as porches. They breed incessantly, and God help you if your porch or garage is their chosen shelter. Local authorities say there is nothing they can do.....unless said cats congregate on your property and the neighbors complain.

Our retirement years have not been the peaceful golden time we expected. In a desperate attempt to stem the cat population, we spend endless time and money worrying about, taming, spaying, and neutering feral cats. My husband, ever the old softie, insists that any cat visiting should be fed. He can't go along with the advice of locals who say, "Just let them starve." (Yes, he feels the same about humans. We'd be bankrupt if we lived in a city full of homeless starving people.)

My computer desk is in a window-lined room on the south side of our house. Every so often a car stops in our alley, easily visible from where I sit. Such stops are dumpings in progress. Half grown pregnant house pets, kittens, or ancient house cats in dire need of euthanizing are deposited by their loving masters in our alley. You don't want to know the punishment I wish on such people, but here's a hint: It has something to do with being hung by their boobs or balls and left to twist in the wind until half dead from starvation.

Most people love and nurture their pets, regardless of species, just as most people do their children. It's the tiny handfull of those who don't that throw my spirit out of tune.

Do your part to stop hunger everywhere

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I enjoy good writing by writers and poets who are not famous. My mother said I was born a hundred years too late. The older I get, the more I realize how right she was.

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