Sometimes Something Magical Happens

 

After a crazy, busy, two-week whirlwind, I’m back at my laptop pecking out some thoughts.  It’s not that I’ve taken a complete hiatus from writing. It’s just that it’s been scribbled in a notebook, several notebooks actually. Sure hope I can find the ones I need today.

Since my last two posts were about the SCWW conference in Myrtle Beach, I’m going to wrap that up first and then move on to Christmas thoughts and memories. Just like everyone else in the Christian world, I too have my reflections to share, the saddest of which occurred yesterday when I went through a McDonald’s drive-thru. I asked the young woman at the window if she’d had a nice Christmas, and she gave me a sad, bored expression and flatly stated that it had been just another day. I’ll get back to this. For now, let’s wrap up the conference.

One afternoon, I went to a session about travel writing that was led by Bill Starr. Since I’m always taking notes when I see new sights, I think this is something I’d like to do. Interesting and informative, Starr said that the keys to successful travel writing are good writing and keen powers of observation. He also suggested talking to the “natives” and asking them questions.                                                   

Andrew Gross, author of Eyes Wide Open and several other best sellers, was the keynote speaker. In addition to his own books, Gross co-wrote six books with author James Patterson. Personable and inspiring, Gross talked about the importance of believing in your ability to write and then sticking to your work. “Sometimes some magical happens when you sit down in front of a screen,” he said. From his website, I picked up one of Gross’ favorite quotes from Henry Ford that seems to summarize his philosophy: “Some people think they can and some think they can’t and they’re probably both right.”

Gross’s statement about digital sales is so important that I’m putting it in a paragraph by itself. For would-be writers who are still a little gun shy of the digital format, Gross shared that 50 percent of his sales are digital. This information left me wondering about the future of “real” books, the kind of book you can hold in your hands, turn its pages, write in its margins, turn down its corners, and “sense” its essence.

Before the award winners were announced, Brenda Remmes, author of The Quaker Cafe and member of our Camden chapter, told an inspiring story about a parachute packer. Without going into a lot of detail (hoping Brenda will do that on our chapter blog), the gist of the story was that we all need to be there for each other. We need to be the encouragers and parachute packers for our fellow writers. No one, repeat NO ONE, makes it alone.

After my three days in Myrtle Beach, I came home with lots of useful information and a more “can-do” attitude. If I had to choose just one idea that has stayed with me after all these weeks, it’s this one: writing is work. Just like any other endeavor, if you want to be successful at it, you’re going to have to do the time. Hmmm. I think I just got the idea for my next post!

Denver and Mr. Ron

In my lesson on charity this morning, I included a reference to a recent novel chosen by my book club, Same Kind of Different as Me, and I decided to review the book here. This is actually a revised version of a review I posted at Amazon.com a couple of weeks ago. Truthfully, it took two years and two attempts before I was hooked by this book. When my son-in-law Charlie gave it to me and described it as “wonderful,” I began reading it right away. I stuck it out for two nights, but I couldn’t get into it for some reason.

“Where did the author come up with such a character as Denver?” I wondered. Could anyone have such a poor and miserable life? I knew that poverty, homelessness, and prejudice were serious issues in our society, but I just didn’t want to be reminded of it right before falling asleep. Plus, the dialect annoyed me. Did the author really have to make people from the South sound so illiterate and backwards? Then Ron entered the picture, and while I thought the accounts of life in the 1960s were pretty interesting, I began to get irritated with this character too. Was the reader supposed to believe that someone would wear matching plaid shirts and shorts, black knee socks, and brogans to a college football game in the 1960’s?

When my book club chose it for our March selection, I picked it up again. “Surely there’s something redeeming about this book for so many people to love it,” I thought. I downloaded it on my Kindle and listened to it on the way to and from work. It wasn’t long before I got involved in the lives of these two men, Denver and Ron, wondering when their lives would intersect. Living parallel lives in different parts of the country, their experiences couldn’t have been more different. One was an illiterate black man who, tired of being poor in Louisiana, hopped on a train and ended up homeless in Fort Worth. The other was a white millionaire, a college grad who seemed to live a charmed existence. Married to Miss Debbie, he was a successful art dealer.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that the book was true…not based on truth, but absolutely true and told by the men who lived the stories. I’ll leave it up to you to read where and when and how their friendship began and grew. I’ll just say that the millionaire who set out to be a do-gooder philanthropist and the former sharecropper who later had a front row seat at a presidential inauguration were forever transformed by their shared experiences. Interestingly, the one who set out to give ended up being on the receiving end. He broadened my thinking too; because of Denver, I’m using Micah 6:8 as yet another guide for living my life.

As the book progresses, Denver and Ron take turns telling their life stories and their individual perceptions of the events described in the book. Each of them shares scenes so descriptive that the reader can see them and feel their essence. Whether Rocky Top, rural Louisiana, the “hood,” or the homeless shelter is being described, they all seem real. Denver’s visions of spirits, occasional scripture references, and pithy words of wisdom are as thought provoking and interesting as Ron’s big art deals and spiritual transformation.

The person who served as a catalyst for the book was Miss Debbie. Denver and Ron loved her, and so will you. Even as I type this, I’m wondering if I can persuade my husband to go to Fort Worth during Spring Break. There are some people I want to meet there…and an art gallery I want to visit.

Books Save Lives

Books have saved my life…and my psyche. My name is Jayne, and I’m a bibliophile.

My name is Jayne, and I’m a bibliophile. So are some of my friends. My children are too. In fact, I borrowed this quote from my son Paul’s blog (http://pbcrolley.tumblr.com) because I liked it so much.

“I know that books don’t save lives on the grand scale. They don’t end wars and such. They don’t cure cancer. But at the same time, books saved my life. And I know they’ve done that for friends of mine. Writing and reading bond me to other people—at its best, literature makes me feel less alone in the world. Great people, great books, great music—these are things that remind me of what beauty people are capable of creating and spreading through the world. So, maybe books do save lives—just not in a dramatic way.” Rob Roberge: The TNB Self-Interview (via synecdoche

I bought a Kindle a few weeks ago and am absolutely loving it. Where I go, it goes. I can even take to church because I’ve downloaded the Bible and the Book of Mormon on it. Today if I tire of reading my latest book delivered by Whispernet, The Motion of the Ocean, I can read bits and pieces of the other 27 books lined up at “home.” Last week Martha and I visited a book store at Edisto, and I bought six books. Six books! Isn’t that a bit excessive for one visit? Yes and no. They were gently used books shelved in the back room of the shop and so their prices were greatly reduced. Plus, I bought two of them to give as gifts.

As we were looking at the selection, I spied The History of Love, a book I’d heard described on NPR and had ordered from Amazon the week before. Martha bought it that afternoon. I wonder if she’s begun reading it yet. It’s none of my business of course. It’s just that yesterday she mentioned her obsession with books and declared that her book buying frenzy had to cease, at least until she read those she’d recently purchased. My other friends are like this too, especially Connie and Kristi.

My children love books too. While their tastes and interest vary widely, they’re all three Harry Potter fans. The girls love all sorts of fiction, and both read an array of nonfiction based on their current lifestyles, Carrie about raising children and Elizabeth about teaching and decorating. Lately, Paul seems to be reading more psychology and counseling material since that’s to be his life’s work. All of them know where to find spiritual words of wisdom too. All know where to read reminders like “Live in thanksgiving daily.”

Books have saved my life…and my psyche. My favorite book from childhood is The Little Engine that Could; because of it, I’ll usually keep on keeping on even when the journey gets rough. I say “usually” because there’s no sense in trying to control the uncontrollable. A favorite from adulthood is The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, no surprise to the people who know me. Dr. Covey’s words reminded me that I and I alone am the master of my fate and that it’s fruitless and a little crazy to blame other people for unhappiness or lack or growth. This morning I dipped into Simple Abundance by Sarah ban Breathnach and was reminded that “Even lousy days possess hidden wonder.” I’m thinking of the novels I’ve read this year and how each one has expanded my horizons and yet narrowed the gap between my fellow earthlings and me. In my book club, we’ve read several books about women and their choices, and I’m amazed at how despite race, socioeconomic status, culture, and century, we’re more similar than not. We face the same battles, heartaches, joys, anxieties, and dreams.

Is there a book that changed your life? Tell me about it.

Ice Cream Sandwiches for Lunch

From food to clothing and everything in-between, life is lived differently at the beach.

I had an ice cream sandwich for lunch Friday. Or maybe it was more like an appetizer since I ate a Chick-fil-A sandwich mid-afternoon. I live differently when I’m here at the beach. It’s where I come to get away from my other life, the one with schedules and deadlines and demands. At the strand, I try to leave as much of that behind as possible, especially when it comes to behavior and attire.

My behavior doesn’t change drastically here at the beach. I don’t turn into some wild child who frequents clubs and bars. Nope. I’m the same old Jayne, just Jayne without the constraints of home. If I want to go shopping at the Myrtle Beach Wal-Mart at midnight, I will (and have). It’s an amazing place at that time of day/night. If I want to read at 11:00 in the morning, I will. For some reason, reading just for fun is something I see as sort of a guilty little pleasure when I’m in my “other life,” and I usually restrict times for fiction reading to early in the morning or late at night. Maybe it’s because I’m always in motion, always taking care of business.

I dress a bit differently too. Since any and everyone reading this probably does the same thing, there’s no need to elaborate on this. And yet, here’s one little thing. I’ve seen more exposed body parts on the beach that I ever cared to see. You know what I’m saying, right? Sometimes a person wants to yell, “Hey, cover that up, will ya?” But it’s fine. It’s really fine. Once a person crosses the line between sea oats and sand, it’s anything goes (almost). Most days I’ll don a bathing suit and hat, and at the last minute I’ll throw on a cover up. It stays on until I cross the line and then stays in my bag until I get ready to cross it again.

One of the things I’ve noticed this weekend is an increase in the number of families on the beach. Grandparents, parents, teens, and little ones are ubiquitous up and down the strand (had to use that word for Carol). Some are under tents and umbrellas, and others are right by the water. What they all seem to have in common is enjoyment of each other’s company for one last bit of fun in the sun. Seeing their smiles and hearing snippets of their conversations and laughter makes me happy and sad at the same time. Wish my grandchildren could’ve come.

Quick story. When I was reading Friday morning, I felt someone’s presence nearby, and when I looked up, there stood an adorable 15 month old little girl staring at me. Her mother and grandfather were chatting closeby. When I looked at her pretty little face and said, “Good morning, Sweetie,” she smiled adorably, pointed to my book, and said, “Buh.” She had blond hair and blue eyes, and I found myself thinking that Olivia would be about her size next summer. Will she be toddling along in a yellow bathing suit pointing at books and starting conversations with people on the beach while her parents hover behind her? Hope so.

Time to head to the beach for one last walk before getting together with Mike and Lisa. Hmmm. What book should I take this morning?

Ellen’s Secret

Yesterday in Wal-Mart, I picked up a magazine and skimmed an article about Ellen. If you’ve seen her lately, you have to have noticed something different about her, a glow that exudes health and confidence. She’s always been an attractive woman, but now she seems especially so. “What is it?” I’ve been asking myself.

Last night I discovered her “secret” as I hurriedly read through the article; it was in Shape in case anyone wants the full version. This is what I gleaned:  she looks radiant and healthy because of choices she made regarding diet and exercise. I don’t remember the exercise part, but I do recall the diet part. In her earlier years, Ellen ate lots of red meat, French fries, and fried food galore. She didn’t feel that great, but she didn’t attribute her lack of energy and blahs to her food consumption.  She’d gain and lose, gain and lose, and then gain and lose some more.

Then one day, Ellen realized that being healthy isn’t about depriving yourself of things you enjoy. It’s about rewarding yourself with things that are good for you. For example, she no longer eats fried food, but rather than looking at it as a deprivation, she looks at it as eliminating something totally not good for her. She’s amazed, maybe even appalled, at the foods she ingested “back in the day,” and now she eats lots of fruits and vegetables and stays away from dairy products and red meat. She views it as a way of nurturing herself, of treating herself well.

I loved the article (at least the part of it that I read) because I, like Ellen, feel something between despair and compassion when I hear women lamenting the fact that they’re “so fat” and that they need to go on a diet. It sounds negative, like they’re going to deprive themselves…and indeed they are. According to Ellen, that doesn’t work. You have to make a commitment to a total lifestyle change. You have to make a commitment to a healthier you, one with energy and confidence. That doesn’t happen with deprivation and self-denial; that happens with loving yourself and making a commitment to health.

So much for the cinnamon buns! Where are those strawberries?

A Larger Universe

When my sister Ann called last night, she could tell that I was in a zone somewhere because she said, “What are you doing? You sound funny.”

“Just thinking,” I replied. She chuckled a little and then asked, “About what?”

I told her that I was thinking about blogs and books and teaching and retirement and children and friends and religion. She’s a smart girl, that Annie, and she quickly turned my (our) focus to religious topics. She said that her pastor had begun a study entitled  HABIT, an acronym for five words that the members were to try to incorporate into their lives. The H stands for HANG, as in hanging with God.

To hang with Him really translates to hang out with Him, to find some quiet meditative time each day to better commune with Him. It could be reading and pondering the scriptures or some other inspirational books, or it could be quietly reflecting on the beauties of Mother Nature. Prayer too is a vital part of this hanging out process.

When she had explained the HABIT practice a little more fully, I asked Ann if she remembered that quietude was my word of the year. Not the month, but the entire year of 2010. Yes, she remembered.

“Well,” I said,  “This hanging out concept fits right into my word.”

“Are you going to write about it?” she asked.

“Maybe. Probably. In fact, definitely.”

There’s so much to be said for spending a few minutes at the beginning of each day to get ourselves focused and calmed and ready for whatever the day might bring. My husband used to gently kid me about my obsession for solitude and once asked what he was supposed to say if someone needed to talk to me when I was getting my soul together. “Just tell them that,” I said. I think the idea scared him a little, but he’d be the first to attest to the fact that I’m a much, much happier person to live with if I can just have a little HANG time in the morning.

Back to Ann. As she was whizzing down the highway with her beloved Allen on the way home from Hartsville last night, I read her a quote by Sue Bender from “A Lesson in Prayer” that sums up my feelings on the subject. She liked it, and I hope you will too.

After writing that her day begins as early as 4:30 or 5:00 a.m., Ms. Bender  continues, “I read one page in each of the small inspirational books. The books change, but they are always ones that remind me that I am not alone, that a spirit larger than myself is at work, a universe larger than my immediate self-interest and concerns. For that I am endlessly grateful.”

The 30-Second Rule

While in Myrtle Beach over the weekend, we visited Barnes and Noble. How I love a good bookstore! This one is within walking distance of our little pied-à-terre (using words like this for the benefit of Martha and Jim) at Seagate. I gravitated towards the bargain books and was torn between one with pictures of China, one about feng shui, and one by John Maxwell entitled The Maxwell Daily Reader. DH reminded me that I could always come to the bookstore to look at the China pix and that I already had about a dozen books on feng shui, so I opted for the Maxwell daily reader. By the way, I only have about ten feng shui books, not 12.

Anyway, I want to share the gist of today’s reading concerning the “30-second rule.” Maxwell reminds the reader(s) that we’ve been taught of the importance of good first impressions and that when we first meet others, we try to make ourselves look good. Reverse that process, he advises, and you’ll find this practice rewarding when you realize the positive impact it has on on others.

This does take some time and effort, however. You don’t want to be glib and full of fake flattery. Sincerity is important. Suggestions include thanking someone for something he’s done for you or for a friend or family member, praising someone for an accomplishment, or simply complimenting another on her appearance. It’s not hard, but it does require effort. It also requires that you step out of your comfort zone.

I think one reason I like this way of thinking so much is because I see it ALL THE TIME in the works of great and/or influential people. There must be something to this, right? For instance, each morning Benjamin Franklin reportedly asked himself what he could do for others that day, and in the evening he asked himself what he had actually done. Thomas S. Monson, President of the LDS church, focuses on service to others and encourages members worldwide to do, say, think, act, and live in loving, giving ways.

So what have I done so far today? Absolutely nothing. The day is young, however, and I plan to rectify my narrow-minded and selfish focus soon. In fact, I think I’ll start in my next class…and maybe I’ll donate some money to the humanitarian aid fund of the LDS Church to help the victims of Haiti’s earthquake.  In the short run, I can text “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross relief for Haiti.

First things first. I’m going to post this in hopes that you’ll follow Maxwell’s, Franklin’s, and Monson’s advice. Then I’m going out in the hall and pay someone a compliment.