Thursday, October 28, 2010

Story board

The Sheepwalker
Does family history matter? It is 1953 and it matters to recently widowed Dolores Moraga – Dee for short. Dee has just lost her mother, Leora, who took secrets to her grave about her daughter’s identity – secrets her granddaughter Valerie guessed at and wrote about in a novel she has just published overseas, a story she hopes her mother will never read.

Set in a bucolic town near emerging Silicon Valley – and across the world in the hills and valleys of Narvarre – Dee sheds her rigid self-control as she searches for answers about her shadow family, Iban, Alfonso and Alaya. When Valerie’s book becomes a bestseller and is scheduled for publication in the U.S., Val will have to come clean with Dee about what she knows, but not before Dee discovers the truth about the one person who is the source of her yearning. Ever dispassionate, Dee will discover a new path and a new passion -- in work and in love.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Yoga, prayer and fasting

I’ve thought long and hard about why I believe I can be a faithful Christian and a yoga practitioner in the same breath. Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University (and author of God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World – and Why Their Differences Matter – think I’ll pick that one up) wrote on this subject in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal. Here is what rang a bell for me:

1. Western practitioners need to acknowledge that yoga has its roots in an Eastern spiritual practice. “Religious traditions have long been mixed and matched,” he says. “Christians have always been pulled in two different directions – the Jewish and the Greek — on issues of the body...”

2. At issue is the how we view our bodies: attempts to connect the body with the divine divide Protestants and Catholics over issues of baptism and the Eucharist; separating the body from the spirit produces heresies such as Gnosticism (the body is bad, therefore Jesus could not have had a real body.)

We studied fasting in church this morning, and then we went home and practiced it. I fail to see how fasting is not encouraging a physical state (weakness, dependence on Christ for strength and focus in prayer) as a means to connect with God.

In yoga, I use my mind to train my body to relax and focus, which helps me deal with stress and distraction that make my prayer life less effective. Imagination plays a role also. Prayer involves both mind and body. How can it be otherwise?

Namaste means, I am told, “the light in my heart acknowledges the light in your heart, and when we are together, we are one.” I can go half way on that one. If Jesus is the light of the world, and he is in my heart and in yours, I acknowledge that. If you are not my sister or brother in Christ, you remain created and loved by His Father, and I acknowledge that. “We are one”, however, is an issue of unity. Unity is a high calling, and I believe it is Jesus Christ who issues that sacred and powerful call. Merely being together does not make us one.

It’s something to think about.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Challenge

I’m taking the NaNoWriMo challenge. I’m going to write a novel in 30 days; 50,000 words in 175 pages; 1,666 words and 5.8 pages a day; I wasn’t going to do it until I read the rules and found out it doesn’t have to be a GOOD novel: quantity counts, not quality.

I try to do something scary every year as an antidote to fear. The scariest thing I ever did was land my husband’s plane at San Jose International Airport. I took landing lessons to distract myself from the fact that I was likely losing my job. Losing a job loses its alarm when losing your life is on the horizon.

The point of this exercise is to beat my internal editor into submission; banish her to some netherworld in my brain; tame her insatiability for my words which she likes to chew on like a cow on cud.

I will give my words to NaNoWriMo’s sightless word counter instead. Better isn’t better, more is better! I believe that as much as I believed I could bounce that Piper Warrior to the ground and live to tell about it.

I sent my husband to his shop and told him to come back in a month, when he has to dig his way through a pile of metal shaving he’s produced teaching himself how to lathe. He took the challenge, packed up his computer and moved to his man cave.

We will Skype.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Ahwahnee Spotted Grass Tussler

Happy are we who have a National Park in our backyard. The squall of tourists has calmed and so we ventured forth. Why take your daily walk to the mailbox when you can walk a horse trail from lower Pines Campground to Mirror Lake?

At lunch we observed through our tableside window the Ahwahnee Spotted Grass Tussler, the house ground squirrel. We noted that a white ruff circling the neck and shoulders is this year’s fall fashion. Collaborative behavior, not so much. If I have an acorn in my mouth and you have a bigger one, I want mine and yours too. I will roll you, pummel your chest with my tiny forefeet, grind my back feet into your furry tummy and box your ears to get what you’ve just stashed in your cheek – you cheeky bastard – what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine too!

Do you think they might be Democrats?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Prior Condition

As we play musical chairs with our health care, scurrying to keep a seat in the game whenever the media sounds an alarm, some of us worry we will be shut out by a prior condition. In a sense, we all have a prior condition. If the Bible is to be believed, we all carry within us the effects of sin and the seeds of death. It’s just a question of how and when the condition presents itself.

Some of us believe in preventive care. Others rely on the miracles of modern medicine and still others stuff tobacco in a cheek, reach for a second donut and decide: life is short. Let’s not worry. The end is the same, dust to dust, though the journey might be different. Or not: the health-conscious person can end up in a hospital bed and the ne’er-do-well can end up on the news celebrating a centennial birthday.

Don’t stop reading, it gets worse. There is the issue of pain. Sometimes I like to go to Jesus about as much as I like to go to the dentist. When I had braces on my teeth I made regular visits to get them adjusted. The adjustment itself didn’t hurt, but for days after my mouth was a maw of pain. Teeth move in miniscule increments. The vision of these small calcified soldiers lined up to form the perfect bite kept me going, though. Attitude adjustment is similar.

I know that I need a more perfect view of justice. I know I need to make major lifestyle changes to be the writer I want to be. Putting myself under the yoke is asking for pain.

It occurs to me that Jesus knows about my prior condition and is willing to offer me insurance anyway, if that’s what I want. The policy itself is free, but apparently there are co-payments for some of the services, confession and prayer to name a few.

You can probably think of more.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Like the genie, are some things better left bottled? I loaded Family TreeMaker last night and began to blow through the family legends.

The infamous half-aunt wasn’t born in Spokane, WA to a mother gone under the wing of her deceased young husband’s family, as we were told. No, L’s birthplace was in Illinois and there seems to be no trace of a father, deceased or otherwise. What was my maternal grandmother doing in Illinois, having a baby alone?

The paternal grandfather who took his origins to the grave out of hatred for his birth family admitted to being born in 1891 in Illinois on the 1920 census. (What is it with this Illinois connection?) True to character, he left two big blanks for the names of his mother and father but did own to the fact that they were from California.

This isn’t family history we are tracking, it should be called family mythology.

Some mistruths are literary license. My maternal great grandmother writes that she lost her husband and was left to support three penniless young children. In fact, she lost him in a divorce that she initiated.

Then there is the list her children – my grandmother O. N. Scott, my uncle J. W. (or H., depending on what record you believe) Scott, and Catherina L Stark...who is that? I was looking for the third sister who allegedly drank creek water when she was a young woman and died of typhoid. I expected her to be a Scott, though.

So, genie, here are my three questions: What are the names of my paternal great grandparents (and why were they so hated?); Who was half-aunt L’s father? And how about that legend that we are descended through the Carter line from Jacques Cartier and an Indian woman he married in Canada? All my research shows he had no offspring. No Indian wife to speak of, either. But that was a favorite story of my great-grandmother, who used “Cartier” as a pen name.

My husband will probably divorce me for staying up late at nights puzzling over all of this, but I have a strategy. I’m going to set him down in front of the computer with his notes and let him see how far he can get verifying that story about the silver mine in Arkansas.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bill Manville on falling in love with writing

My friend and writing teacher Bill Manville has requested guest space. (He tried to post this is the comment section to one of my blogs on writing and wasn't able to...some of my friends have difficulty posting comments and others don't, I don't understand why; it happens to me too.) From Bill:

What do New York editors, publishers and agents look for in new writers? I'm Bill Manville; my last thriller, “Goodbye,” published by Simon & Schuster, was a BOM Alternate; my last non-fiction, "Cool, Hip & Sober," was published by Forge New York. I also write a weekly column for the New York Daily News, and teach "Writing to Get Published" online for both and Temple University. The principal text for both courses is, “The WTGP Student Handbook.” I give it to my students at the beginning of each course, Here's a passage I hope other writers will find relevant to what they may be trying to do:

How early as kids do we develop a sense of justice? As yet unwilling to accommodate selfishness and greed, “It isn’t fair!” we cry out to each other at some petty instance of bias;-- one of the most powerful arguments childhood can summon. Commenting on the Peloponnesian War at the end of the fifth century BC, the Greek historian Thucydides noted:
The strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must.
Not only does he record a fact of war but does it with an irony of language that says to us, Oh, no—it isn’t fair, it isn’t just. And the noble child who lives in us still – the one who reads a lot and may even aspire to be a writer --resonates to the unspoken message: Amen! we answer back—which is why Thucydides is still read 25 centuries later.

What I try to teach my students is that good writing starts with that community of values between writer and reader, an unspoken meeting of souls between-the-lines. A feeling very much like falling in love.

From "Writing to Get Published." If you’d like a free copy – over 150 digital pages, email and ask. No strings; results do not vary; yes it’s free.

Postscript from Sydney:  Thank you Bill. And, gentle reader, if you can shed some light on how to leave a comment that doesn't disappear into cyberspace, please do.  Let's have a comment blitz to this entry. No advertiser will call, I promise.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Flash frame

When I’m on my yoga mat, my mind often flashes to other happy places: I see the sun squinting soft and friendly at me between pine tree branches as it sets outside the window where I used to do yoga in Los Gatos; I smell a pleasant glow of beeswax off the hardwood floor in a spacious studio in Traverse City, MI.; I feel the warm sun and welcome breeze on my skin on a grassy knoll near the Stanislaus River.

When I stand before our congregation with our small praise team leading worship songs, I try to focus on the meaning of the words we are singing. I try to pray those words: Yes, God, you are my King; Yes, Jesus, make me a servant; Yes Holy Spirit, give me a stronger heart.

In the pauses of my mind, images flash like the new Cozi screen saver I have installed on my computer. When my computer isn’t in use, a template of attractive frames pops up and randomly selects images from my picture file to display in rotation. My mind does this too. Pop! Pop! Pop! Here they come – an image of the island church where my daughter and her family worship. I see their musicians praising God with flute and violin; an image of my son and his wife worshiping in their church on the coast. I see their rapt faces; older images appear randomly. I see the hymn choir at the now defunct Christ the King Anglican church in Campbell – the faces of old friends – and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus at Christmastime. Then I feel angels step up to join us and my heart and my voice are stronger. I feel unity.

I do not believe that those who have passed are much involved with those who remain. I do wonder, though, if there might be a really big screen TV in heaven. I wonder if my mother and father glance at it occasionally, see our images rotating on the screen, remark to each other that we seem to be doing well and take pleasure in that. I believe we have a high-tech God, so why not?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Slam Poetry

More for my writer friends – Slam Poetry is a poem that reads like a story. I took a Turn Your Prose into Poetry workshop from Sarah Zale. The value of turning your prose into poetry is that you can give your story more power. Challenge yourself to tell a lot in as few words as possible. Here are some tips:
  1. Tell family stories or make observations, with a twist
  2. Line breaks are important
  3. Use techniques such as lists, rhythm and music, but not necessarily rhyme – try slant rhyme or close rhyme such as assonance (rhyming vowels within a word)
  4. Bring your readers into your story by letting them make choices as to what it all means; let your reader figure out the feelings
  5. Repetition is effective in poetry
  6. Make sure your language matches the voice. If you write from a child’s perspective, use a child’s words.
  7. Build a poem around a quote or write from a persona

Here is a short poem I wrote in the seminar, based on words I carry in my heart.

Bad News

After midnight phone calls come

at all hours of the day:

Mom, my life is over

Mom? He’s still alive

Sydney, I can’t get up anymore

alarms go off that have not been set

noise clangs silently in ears

dark closes the shades on eyes

bellows suck air from lungs

ribs press painfully into a heart grown huge

with an infusion of bad news.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Weekend Writer Warrior

I had an inspired weekend at Write on the Sound in Edmonds, WA and I want to share some of my treats with my writing friends. Remember Natalie Goldberg? Writing down the Bones; Wild Mind – she started a creative writing movement back in the day when people started movements (what movement would you like to start today?) Natalie’s thoughts on writing:

Writers care about something that the rest of society doesn’t care much about.
A timed writing practice gives you a chance to say what you really want to say and find out what your true obsessions are.
Writing is an athletic activity.
All those journals you have? Re-read them; then throw them away. They aren’t precious.
And from Paula Coomer, English professor at University of Washington. Her thoughts on writing in the absence of commercial success:

The devil trades in immediate gratification, not eternal consequences. Writing has eternal consequences.
Writing is about Mystery – not knowing what is going to come out of the end of your pen, being amazed at the grace of it.
Writing is the act of setting down your thinking as clearly as possible.
Walk softly and carry a pen and a big notebook.
And from Robert J. Ray, teacher, author and Goldberg convert:
Now write. Go.